Before today's game against No. 1-ranked Pittsburgh, Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust tried to inspire his players by recalling the seven previous times the Irish have upset top-rated teams.
Now he can add No. 8 to that list.
With freshman tailback Allen Pinkett, former star at Park View High School in Sterling, Va., scoring the last two touchdowns, including a 76-yard beauty, Notre Dame gave Faust his first taste of Irish glory, 31-16.
Except for an early season victory over Michigan, Faust has had an unsteady tenure at Notre Dame. But now, 19 games after he left his coaching job at Cincinnati's Moeller High School, Faust finally may have completed the transition.
Ironically, it was his much-criticized, dreadfully dull offense that was most responsible for ending Pittsburgh's eight-game winning streak, including seven this season. It was only the Panthers' fourth loss in four years.
Notre Dame (6-1-1) turned a newly installed flea flicker pass play into a 54-yard touchdown and a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. Then an end-around play that gained 17 yards set up Pinkett's second touchdown, from seven yards, ending any comeback dreams by Pittsburgh.
In between those two scores, Pinkett silenced the 60,162 fans who jammed Pitt Stadium by turning a simple tailback sprint draw play into a scintillating touchdown against the nation's No. 7-ranked run defense.
Pinkett, who gained 129 yards against Navy last week in his first start, broke one tackle at the line of scrimmage, shook off another three yards later and then moved between two defenders before breaking clear. He completed the 76-yard play without a Pitt player near, giving Notre Dame a 24-16 margin that even Pitt quarterback Dan Marino couldn't overcome.
Not with Pinkett around. He is a 5-foot-9, 175-pound runner of the Tony Dorsett type who finished with 112 yards on 10 carries.
"I was looking to cut back at first because they are so aggressive," Pinkett said. "But when I started to cut, I saw two guys waiting for me. I decided then to run it straight up field. Then I saw two more guys closing on me. I tried to get to a little funnel or void or vacuum or bubble, whatever you want to call it, before they came together. After that, I was just afraid someone would catch me from behind."
For awhile, it appeared Notre Dame would be working from behind all game.
The Irish, who hadn't thrown a touchdown pass until last week, gained only 117 yards through three quarters, mainly because quarterback Blair Kiel and his receivers appeared to be working from different play books.
But two special team mistakes by Pitt (a fumbled punt and a personal foul on another punt) set up a field goal and touchdown for Notre Dame to offset effective work by Marino. He had appeared to grab control of the game by directing the Panthers on a 98-yard, 18-play, 8 1/2-minute scoring drive early in the second half.
That drive ended with a one-yard run by halfback Bryan Thomas to put Pittsburgh ahead, 13-10. Marino, who passed for 314 yards (26 of 42, no interceptions), was being protected so well by his massive offensive line that it seemed only a matter of time before the Panthers stopped making the game so close.
Instead, it was Notre Dame that broke away.
With almost 15 minutes remaining, Pinkett left the game for senior Phil Carter, who had been the starting tailback before running ineffectively recently. There was a good reason for the substitution. With the ball at his 46, Faust wanted to run the flea flicker, but in practice last week, Pinkett kept messing up the pitch part of the play.
So Carter got a chance to be part of the glory. He took a handoff from Kiel, and then stopped and pitched the ball back to the Irish quarterback. Downfield, receiver Joe Howard (from Washington's Carroll High School) has slipped behind substitute safety Rick Dukovich, who was playing for injured Tom Flynn, Pittsburgh's best secondary back.
"As soon as I got the ball, I could see Joe was wide open," said Kiel, who twice today had called audibles out of the flea flicker because the Panthers were in the wrong defense. "If I had thrown a perfect spiral, it would have gone over his head. I guess I should be glad it wobbled, because Joe had a chance to catch up to it."
Howard's touchdown gave Notre Dame a 17-13 lead. Pittsburgh responded with a 47-yard Eric Schubert field goal, his third of the game, to close to within one point. And the Panthers were on the verge of going ahead moments later, only to have receiver Julius Dawkins lose a fumble on the Irish 23.
Two plays later, Pinkett scored on his long run. The next time Notre Dame had the ball, the Irish moved 65 yards in only six plays, with Pinkett breaking two more tackles before going in from the seven to wrap up things.
"I think we got some respectability back, coming from behind like we did," said Faust. "It was a tough week for us. It was cold all week and on Tuesday the lights were out on our practice field and we couldn't throw the ball."
Today, however, the lights went out, possibly for good, on Pittsburgh's dreams of a national championship.
"The kids are taking it pretty tough," said Pittsburgh coach Foge Fazio. "They felt they lost it, that they didn't get beat. But mistakes killed us."
Not to mention Allen Pinkett.