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Here’s the kicker

Greg Arbogast | Monday, November 3, 2008

The longest overtime game in Notre Dame Stadium history ended too early for the Irish.

When Pittsburgh kicker Conor Lee’s 22-yard field goal sailed through the north end zone’s uprights in the fourth overtime, it ended Irish aspirations for a fifth overtime as the Panthers stormed the field to celebrate their 36-33 victory.

Pittsburgh entered its fourth overtime possession knowing a field goal would secure the victory. After two short running plays and an incompletion, Notre Dame sent kicker Brandon Walker out for the fourth consecutive overtime possession, but the sophomore’s 38-yard attempt went wide left.

Although Walker’s miss opened the door for Pittsburgh, it was also Walker’s leg that kept the Irish in the game. The sophomore kicker made three straight field goals to start overtime including a 48-yarder to force the fourth overtime. He made four of his field goals on the day.

“I know Brandon felt bad at the end,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “But he’s a guy who’s keeping us in the game all through the game right there. That’s exactly what I told him walking off the field when he felt bad. I said, ‘Feel bad, justifiable so, feel bad you missed a kick, but you do not take the onus, the responsibility of this loss on your shoulders.'”

The Notre Dame offense did have multiple opportunities in overtime to put the game away. Needing a touchdown to end the game after just one overtime, the Irish ran the ball three straight plays down to the Panthers’ three-yard line, but the drive stalled with a one-yard run and incomplete pass on the following two plays.

On the first play of the second overtime, Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen had Michael Floyd open down the middle of the field but overthrew the freshman receiver. Clausen finished with 271 yards and three touchdowns on the day, but he was unable to lead the Irish to the end zone in any of the team’s four overtime possessions.

“With four overtimes, at some point you’ve got to score,” Irish receiver Golden Tate said. “We’ve got a good offense. We should’ve scored early. Then the defense would have held them, and we’d have won the game.”

Late in the fourth quarter, the Notre Dame offense did give the defense a chance to win the game, but the defensive unit was unable to protect the lead.

Tate was the offensive protagonist as his six-yard touchdown reception on a fade gave the Irish a 24-17 lead with 5:38 remaining. Tate finished with 6 catches for 111 yards and the one touchdown.

The Panthers immediately responded. A combination of Pat Bostick throws and LeSean McCoy runs set Pittsburgh up with a second and six from the Irish 10-yard line with under three minutes to play.

Bostick proceeded to try the same play on second and third down – a fade for six-foot-five receiver Jonathan Baldwin – but each attempt resulted in an incompletion. With only one timeout remaining, Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt elected to go for it on fourth down, and the third time was a charm for Bostick and Baldwin. This time, the freshman receiver out-leaped Irish corner Raeshon McNeil securing the ball and the tie for the Panthers.

“I knew exactly what the play was going to be,” McNeil said. “I got a little too high on the route and the receiver came back and made a good play on the ball. That’s Pittsburgh’s motto. They have a big receiver [Baldwin] and when they get into the red zone they like to throw it up to him.”

That play was redemption for Bostick, who had struggled earlier in the game. Starting in place of an injured Bill Stull, Bostick completed only three of six passes in the first half for 24 yards and a McNeil interception that led to an Irish touchdown. His drives produced zero points as the only Panthers points came on the one drive third-stringer Kevan Smith was in the game.

The second half was a different story.

Coming out of the locker room trailing 17-3, Bostick brought Pittsburgh back in the third quarter. The sophomore completed seven of nine passes for 70 yards in the third quarter, including a 37-yard completion to Oderick Turner on fourth-and-one that set up the Panthers’ first touchdown.

Bostick was also helped by McCoy, one of the nation’s finest running backs. Late in the third quarter, McCoy finished off a long Pittsburgh drive with a one-yard plunge, tying the game 17-17. McCoy, who entered the game leading the nation in scoring average, was a workhorse for the Panthers rushing 32 times for 169 yards.

“We just have to come out and make some plays,” McCoy said of the offense’s second-half success. “We came out the first drive of the second half and went down and scored, and that shows a lot about our character. We still had faith in our quarterbacks, you know, Pat [Bostick] was confident.”

The Irish offense was as inept as Pittsburgh’s offense was successful in the third quarter. After scoring two touchdowns late in the first half to take a 14-point lead, the Notre Dame offense was unable to build on that momentum.

In the third quarter, the Irish offense ran 10 plays for seven net yards and failed to gain a first down. The tone was set by an ineffective running game as two of the three Notre Dame possessions started with a five-yard loss on a run play. After pounding Washington last week for 252 yards on the ground, the Irish managed only 115 yards on 39 carries against Pittsburgh for an average of 2.9 yards per carry.