PITTSBURGH - Jonathan Baldwin made two exceptional catches that allowed No. 8 Pittsburgh to open up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter before Notre Dame rallied behind two touchdowns by star Golden Tate, and the Panthers held on for a 27-22 victory last night that may raise more cries for Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis' ouster.
Notre Dame (6-4) trailed 27-9 with 12:44 remaining after Dion Lewis' 50-yard touchdown run, then came back before Jimmy Clausen fumbled with just over two minutes remaining.
The Irish followed up a did-it-really-happen 23-21 loss to Navy with their eighth consecutive loss to a Top 10 team - the longest streak in school history. Weis is 1-10 against ranked teams since 2006, and has the same record (35-25) as former coach Bob Davie and the same winning percentage (.583) as former coach Tyrone Willingham, both of whom were fired.
Pitt relied on big plays by Baldwin and running backs Lewis and Ray Graham to improve to 9-1 for the first time since 1982, Dan Marino's senior season, and is headed for a Dec. 5 home date against No. 5 Cincinnati that will decide the Big East champion and BCS bowl representative. A Nov. 27 game at rival West Virginia won't factor into the conference race.
A game that the Panthers needed to win for prestige and to remain in the Top 10 couldn't have gone much better for them for three quarters-plus, with the offense repeatedly making big plays.
Tate, one of college football's most dynamic talents, nearly brought the Irish back.
Tate ended with nine catches for 113 yards in his second 100-yard game against Pitt in as many seasons.
Called the best player Pitt has faced all season by coach Dave Wannstedt, Tate caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Clausen to cut it to 27-16 with 9:10 remaining. Tate then ran right up the middle of Pitt's punt coverage unit on an 87-yard touchdown return less than two minutes later.
That score quieted a raucous crowd of 65,374, including thousands of suddenly nervous students who only minutes before loudly sung their adopted good-luck song, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" - only to have a couple of sweet plays by Tate create an uneasy calm.