Pitt knocks off No. 24 Notre Dame
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Pittsburgh played mistake-free and forced three Notre Dame turnovers to knock off the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish, 28-21, at Heinz Field.
Ray Vinopal picked off Tommy Rees twice in the fourth quarter, the second to set up James Conner's second touchdown of the game, a go-ahead 1-yard run with 9:36 remaining.
Notre Dame (7-3) had two more possessions and only got as far as the opposing 38-yard line to fall short. The loss ended the Fighting Irish's string of 10 straight wins in games decided by a touchdown or less as well as their slim chances of reaching a BCS bowl.
Tom Savage threw a pair of touchdown passes to Devin Street and finished with 243 yards on 22-of-35 attempts for the Panthers (5-4), who halted a two-game skid and snapped Notre Dame's four-game winning streak.
"I thought all units did a heck of a job and contributed, and that's what makes this one feel good," Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said.
Rees completed just 18-of-39 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns with the two costly interceptions. T.J. Jones scored twice -- once through the air and once on the ground -- but lost a key fumble in the setback.
The last six meetings between these programs have all been decided by seven points of less, including last season's triple overtime thriller that kept Notre Dame's undefeated season going.
This time the Panthers made the crucial plays when it counted.
Early in the fourth quarter, several Notre Dame defenders mindlessly stood and watched a loose ball bounce towards the sideline after Prince Shembo sacked Savage and forced a fumble near midfield.
"It was just a lapse, a bunch of inexperienced guys out there not seeing that they should have been on the ball," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of the missed opportunity.
Pitt running back Isaac Bennett recovered the ball after it stayed on the ground for several seconds, and although the Panthers had to punt, they got it back when Rees threw an interception -- his second in as many throws after getting picked off by Vinopal in the end zone.
Vinopal took his second interception back 40 yards to the Notre Dame 5, and Conner punched it in from a yard out to give Pitt its first lead, 28-21.
The Irish punted near midfield on their next touch, Rees had his 4th-down pass knocked down with under 2 1/2 minutes to play, and Pitt ran the rest of the clock out to secure the win.
Notre Dame opened the scoring with 3:41 remaining in the opening quarter. Two plays after completing a 10-yard pass on 4th-and-4, Rees found DaVaris Daniels in the end zone from 10 yards out.
Pittsburgh caught a break on the first play of the second quarter when Notre Dame star defensive end Stephon Tuitt was flagged and ejected for his helmet- to-helmet hit on Savage. Savage quickly recovered and led a 10-play, 71-yard march that ended with Street's 3-yard touchdown catch.
Ben Koyack's 38-yard catch down to the 1-foot line set up the Irish's second touchdown. Jones, who lost a fumble six deep in Pitt territory on the previous possession, took an inside handoff and this time crossed the goal line to give Notre Dame a 14-7 lead heading into halftime.
A fourth-down pass interference penalty on Bennett Jackson kept Pitt's second drive of the third quarter alive, and James Conner's 2-yard touchdown run shortly thereafter tied the game at 14.
The teams traded big plays on consecutive touches following the touchdown. Jones sprinted past the defense and hauled in an 80-yard score, and Street broke a tackle during his 63-yard catch-and-run to paydirt.
Notre Dame fell to 12-2 in November under Kelly ... Pitt was outgained 456-355 but controlled the time of possession 36:33-23:27 ... Jones caught six passes for 149 yards and added 41 yards on three carries.
11/10 01:56:06 ET