This weekend, Pitt will travel to South Bend, Indiana to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It’s the first trip the Panthers will make to South Bend since 2012.
Going into the game in 2012, the Fighting Irish were 8-0.
They were returning home following a big road win against No. 8 Oklahoma. The Panthers were 4-4 and 18 point underdogs against the Irish.
I grew up with Pitt and Notre Dame fans on both sides of my family. When I noticed Pitt playing at Notre Dame in November 2012, I decided I had to go. Growing up with family members who loved both teams, it felt like a pilgrimage I had to make at some point.
The game did not disappoint.
I enlisted my friend, Amanda Kahl, to make the trip with me.
We arrived on campus several hours ahead of the game, to ensure we saw all the sights. We were both in awe of the campus.
The golden dome, the Basilica, Touchdown Jesus. Things I’d seen on television when watching games as a child were even more beautiful in person.
The fall leaves made the campus look like a cover photograph on a college brochure.
The weather was cold, so we got some hot chocolate and headed to our end zone seats, about 20 rows behind the Pitt band.
While I was excited to finally be seeing the Panthers and Irish in Notre Dame Stadium, I wasn’t expecting much of a game. Notre Dame was the No. 3 team in the country. Pitt was a .500 team and had lost at home to FCS opponent Youngstown State.
Again, the Panthers were 181/2-point underdogs to a team with national title hopes.
Notre Dame’s defense – led by Heisman hopeful linebacker Manti Te’o – hadn’t allowed more than 17 points in any game yet that season.
The Irish had defeated four Top 25 teams in the previous six weeks. Expecting a blowout didn’t seem unreasonable.
Both I and the odds makers were wrong.
The game got off to a slow start, with the teams swapping field goals in the first quarter.
Notre Dame went up 6-3 early in the second quarter following a goal-line stand by the Pitt defense.
A 16-yard rushing touchdown by Pitt running back Ray Graham put the Panthers up 10-6. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly switched quarterbacks late in the first half, bringing in Tommy Rees to replace Everett Golson. Rees got the Irish into field goal range, but Brindza missed and the Panthers took their 10-6 lead into halftime.
The Tommy Rees experiment didn’t last for long, as he was intercepted by Pitt linebacker Eric Williams midway through the third quarter, giving the Panthers the ball around midfield. Kelly chewed out Rees on the Irish sideline.
Pitt scored three plays later, as quarterback Tino Sunseri hit tight end J.P. Holtz over the middle for a completion that went for 43 yards. Sunseri found Holtz in the end zone on the next play, and the Panthers led 17-6.
It was the quietest the stadium had been all game, with the only sound being the cheers of the Panthers fans in attendance and the Pitt band playing the Pitt Victory Song after the touchdown.
The crowd grew even more hushed when Graham had a 48-yard rush deep into Notre Dame territory, which set up another Kevin Harper field goal.
Pitt took a 20-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
Then the chaos began.
Pitt’s defense seemed to have held Notre Dame on fourth down deep in Pitt territory, but a defensive pass interference call on cornerback K’Waun Williams gave the Irish a new set of downs. The call was controversial, as many thought it was unwarranted and it came at such a crucial part of the game.
Golson – who had come back in the game after Rees’ interception – completed a pass to T.J. Jones. Brindza missed the point after, but Notre Dame had momentum and the crowd had come alive.
The Irish defense stepped up and didn’t allow Pitt to move the ball much. Sunseri was sacked by future Steeler Stephon Tuitt.
It was all Golson on Notre Dame’s next drive, as he made use of both his arm and his legs.
It looked like the Irish would get an opportunity to tie it, but Williams picked off Golson at the goal line with 4 minutes remaining in the game.
It was Golson’s turn to be chewed out by Kelly on the sideline.
The Panthers went three and out on their next drive and only took a minute off the clock.
The Irish again got a chance to tie the game and remain in the national championship picture.
The Irish got the ball around midfield, and needed two plays to get in the end zone.
Golson tied it with a one-yard run on the 2-point conversion.
A wild overtime followed.
The first overtime featured each team kicking a field goal and the score was tied at 23.
During the second overtime, Irish running back Cierre Wood fumbled the ball in the end zone, and it was recovered by Pitt safety Jarred Holley.
The crowd groaned and booed.
The boos got louder after the play was reviewed, and the review confirmed the call on the field.
The Panthers were poised to win. Since Notre Dame had possessed the ball in the second overtime period, all Pitt needed was a field goal to notch a win.
Harper had already made field goals of 21, 39, and 41 yards during the game.
Pitt couldn’t convert on third down, and Harper came out to attempt a 33-yard, game-winning field goal to upset Notre Dame.
The snap was high, and the kick went wide right.
The crowd exploded into cheers. Those around me couldn’t believe how lucky the Irish were.
There was controversy, however. On Harper’s missed field goal, two Irish players wearing No. 2 were on the field at the time of Harper’s missed field goal.
While duplicate numbers are allowed on college football rosters, players wearing the same number can’t be on the field at the same time.
By rule, Notre Dame should have been given a 5-yard penalty ,and Harper should have been given another chance to kick a game-winning field goal.
The officials missed it though, and the teams headed to a third overtime.
Pitt possessed the ball first, and Harper made a 44-yard field goal to give Pitt a 26-23 advantage.
On the Irish’s next drive, Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold Notre Dame.
From my seat, I watched as Golson pushed his way into the opposite end zone.
Fighting Irish 29, Panthers 26.
Notre Dame reached the BCS Championship game that year, only to get pounded 42-14 by Alabama. Pitt fell to Mississippi in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
To say the 2012 matchup between the Panthers and Fighting Irish was the most epic and wild college game I’ve ever attended is an understatement.
I’ll again be at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday.
Not in the press box, but in the stands.
Here’s hoping those watching are treated to another epic game between the two teams.
Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pitt football for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.