Notre Dame 29, Pitt 26 (3 OT)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson took matters into his own hands as Notre Dame preserved its national championship hopes with a 29-26 triple overtime victory over Pitt on Saturday.
Golson set up the game-winner with a six-yard run to the Pitt one, then bulled through the line for the game-winner as the Irish remained unbeaten.
Pitt's Kevin Harper had given the visitors a 26-23 lead in the third overtime with a successful 44-yard field goal.
Notre Dame, which entered the game No. 4 in two national polls and third in BCS weekly rankings, improved to 9-0 for the first time since 1993.
Unranked Pitt, which had beaten Notre Dame in two of three previous meetings in South Bend, slipped to 4-5.
Golson had a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes, then ran for a two-point conversion as the Irish forced a 20-20 tie with 3:02 left in regulation.
The teams matched field goals in the first overtime. In the second extra period, Irish back Theo Riddick fumbled in the end zone on a short dive, then a potential game-winning 33-yard field goal by Harper sailed wide right.
Golson was 23 of 42 for 227 yards and rushed for 74 more. Riddick rushed 22 times for 85 yards while Daniels had 7 catches for 86 yards. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri was 19 of 29 for 164 yards while tailback Ray Graham rushed 24 times for a game-high 172 yards.
Notre Dame's first touchdown of the day came when Golson connected on an 11-yard score with T.J. Jones with 13:51 left in regulation. Kyle Brindza's extra point failed, leaving Pitt ahead 20-12.
With just over three minutes left in regulation, a poised and well-protected Golson took time to finally find wide receiver DaVaris Daniels on a 45-yard play to the Pitt 5-yard line.
One play later, Golson scrambled to his right and fired to Riddick with 3:02 to play and then ran for the two-point conversion and a tie.
The Panthers used early red zone defense, a reversed Irish touchdown and efficient passing by Sunseri to open a second quarter lead it held until late in regulation.
Leading 10-6 late in the third quarter, the Panthers used an Eric Williams interception of Tommy Rees and Sunseri's back-to-back connections with tight end J.P. Holtz to extend their advantage to 17-6.
Sunseri and Holtz combined on a 43-yard gainer to the Irish nine. One play later, Sunseri hit Holtz on a TD strike with 6:31 remaining in the quarter.
But a later Pitt drive inside the Irish five broke down, and Harper drilled a 21-yard field goal -- his second of the game -- for a 20-6 lead with 1:04 left in the third quarter.
Notre Dame and Golson saw two promising first half drives stall inside the Pitt 20. On its opening possession, the Irish advanced to the Panther 18, then settled for a Brindza 37-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Pitt replied with a 7-play, 65-yard drive capped by Harper's 39-yard field goal to tied the game.
The Irish moved to the Panther one-foot line with less than 11 minutes to go and appeared to score on Riddick's reach over the goal line. The touchdown was overruled when officials ruled Riddick's knee touched the ground at the two yard line.
Two plays later, Pitt linebacker Shane Gordon broke through the line to smother Riddick at the five and the Irish went for a 22-yard Brindza field goal and a 6-3 lead.
Pitt then marched 58-yards in 6 plays on the way to a 10-6 lead as Graham eluded several Irish tacklers to on a 16-yard sweep down the right sidelines with 4:42 left for a 10-6 lead.
Brindza's bid to trim the margin just before halftime failed when his 43-yard field goal try went wide right.
NOTES: Pitt's most recent win at Notre Dame Stadium was a 36-33 come-from-behind triumph in 2008. ... The Irish are now 418-133-15 (.752) when ranked in the Top 25 and 82-20-2 (.798) when ranked among the nation's Top 5. ... The Panthers became only the third team this season to score on the Irish in the opening quarter. Miami and Oklahoma also had first quarter field goals but no foe has managed a touchdown during the first 15 minutes. ... Manti Te'o ran his consecutive start streak to a team-high 44 with Saturday's ninth of the season. ... Graham's 55-yard first quarter run was the longest by an Irish opponent this season. ... Saturday's flag presentation at Notre Dame Stadium featured 12 present and former Irish athletes who participated in the 2012 London Olympics. ... Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's career record against Pitt improved to 5-1 while it was the first meeting for the Panthers' Paul Chryst.