Notre Dame rallies past Pitt, 15-12

By Will Graves

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Shanahan (87) stretches for a first down after making a catch past Notre Dame linebacker Troy Nicklas during the second quarter of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 in Pittsburgh.

Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh spent 45 minutes knocking Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees around.

The sophomore needed less than five minutes to knock the Panthers out.

Rees shrugged off a miserable start to hit tight end Tyler Eifert on a 6-yard touchdown pass with less than 7 minutes to go and lift Notre Dame to a 15-12 win on Saturday. The score and subsequent two-point conversion — also to Eifert — capped 4:40 of perfection from Rees as the Irish (2-2) won their second straight.

Rees went 8-for-8 on the game-winning drive, remaining patient even as the Panthers (2-2) bottled up Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd.

Did Rees want to go deep to his favorite target? Sure. Yet he reined in his inner swashbuckler and ignored the beating he took over the first three quarters to play with the kind of poise that has earned him the starting job and his teammates' respect.

"You've just got to make the right decisions," Rees said. "We did some good things getting the ball underneath and just kind of chipping away at their defense."

Rees finished 24 of 41 for 216 yards with a touchdown and an interception and running back Jonas Gray scored on a 79-yard touchdown run for Notre Dame, which overcame eight penalties and two costly turnovers.

It wasn't pretty. Then again, it beats the alternative for a team that already has a couple of aesthetically pleasing losses — from a statistical standpoint anyway — under their belt.

"Yeah there's some frustration when you're not putting points on the board," Eifert said. "But at the same time you've got to keep grinding ... our defense stepped up big and our offense scored just enough points."

Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 165 yards and a score but was sacked twice on his final drive to snuff out a late rally as the program's eventful week ended with a thud.

The Panthers were hoping to give coach Todd Graham his first signature win at the school and prove that Pittsburgh's announcement it was bolting the Big East for the ACC in three years wasn't a distraction.

Instead, the Panthers ended up letting a second-half lead slip away for the second week in a row. Last weekend a 21-point advantage at Iowa turned into a 31-27 loss.

This time the collapse wasn't as dramatic, but just as painful.

"We're so close, we can touch it," Sunseri said. "But that's the thing that's so frustrating right now. We feel like we are inches away from really busting this open and really being in that up-tempo offense and understanding it and really being able to put points on the board."

Just not yet.

Still, the Panthers had a chance thanks to a defense that bullied the Irish for long stretches. Notre Dame, which began the day tied for last in the country with 13 turnovers, only gave it away twice against the Panthers, but both were costly.

Rees took a shot in the first quarter and ended up fumbling to set up a Pitt field goal. He later threw an interception at the Pitt goal line in the second quarter to cut short a lengthy Notre Dame drive.

When it mattered, however, Rees delivered, showcasing why he took the starting job away from senior Dayne Crist three weeks ago. The youthful mistakes he's mixed in between flashes of solid play disappeared in the fourth quarter.

"He's growing up and seeing some things," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. "There were some new looks for him that he had not seen before that we had to adjust. And after Tommy sees it, he gets much more comfortable."

Rees certainly looked like it in the fourth and with Floyd double-covered had no problem zeroing in on Eifert.

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