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Golson, Brindza bounce back from adversity

Jack Hefferon | Monday, November 5, 2012

“Coming out today, I know we came out a little flat,” Irish sophomore quarterback Everett Golson said after Notre Dame’s 29-26 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

That was the story of Notre Dame’s first three quarters against the Panthers. The defense was gashed and exposed for the first time all year, and the special teams were even worse. These factors contributed to the perfect storm for an Irish team trying to avoid an upset and staring down a 20-6 fourth-quarter deficit.

While the Panthers didn’t make matters easier down the stretch, Notre Dame pulled together and stepped up in every facet to pull out an improbable victory.

It started with Golson, who became the team’s biggest running threat in addition to handling passing duties in Irish coach Brian Kelly’s empty-set offensive packages. The sophomore – pulled in the first half in favor of junior Tommy Rees, only to return in the third quarter – led the Irish on a drive to cut the lead to 20-12 early in the fourth quarter.

“Everett competed his butt off,” Kelly said. “He’s not perfect, but the boy competes. And, man, he just kept competing in the second half and found a way for us to get enough points on the board.”

Then it was the defense’s turn to carry the load and right its wrongs. Senior linebacker Manti Te’o and graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore stepped up after quiet afternoons to hold the Panthers offense and get the ball back to Golson.

Golson drove the Irish back to the red zone again, but then made what he called a “horrible” read that resulted in a costly interception. The defense held for a three-and-out again to back up the offense, and two plays later Golson took his second chance and found senior Theo Riddick in the end zone before converting the two-point conversion to tie the game at 20.

“It was ugly at times and beautiful at times,” Te’o said. “We all had to believe that we were going to win. We had to take it play by play. I’m so proud of the way our defense responded.”

Pittsburgh opened the first overtime with a field goal, and struggling sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza, who had missed an extra point and a field goal already, stood in and drilled his do-or-die attempt to respond and keep the team alive.

The Irish again found themselves with their backs against the wall in the second overtime after a Cierre Wood fumble. Pittsburgh lined up a field goal from 33 yards away – but the kick flew inches right of the uprights, and Notre Dame was finally ready to pull together and seize the win.

“We knew our defense was going to hold them to a field goal at least, and we knew we had to do our job to put it in the end zone,” Irish senior tackle Zack Martin said.

The defense did just that once again, pushing the Panthers back two yards and stopping them at just a field goal. Then, capping off an effort that earned him the game ball, Golson helped lead a total offensive effort, diving into the end zone to seal the victory.

“You have to play as well as you can against all of these teams or you’re going to get beat,” Kelly said. “And they found a way.”

When Notre Dame fell behind – struggling and underperforming in basically every aspect of play – the team dug out together, with everyone pulling the load to keep the dreams of a perfect season alive.

“I’d like to think that this is what a team coming together and handling major adversity is,” Golson said. “Just coming together – both offense and defense – and the guys winning.”

 

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu