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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish VS Pittsburgh Panthers, 1982

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish v Pittsburgh Panthers
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 6: Quarterback Blair Kiel #5 of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish turns to hand off the football during a college football game against the University of Pittsburgh Panthers at Pitt Stadium on November 6, 1982 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Notre Dame defeated the Pitt Panthers 31-16.
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

This week for my Throwback Thursday post, I’m going to look back at the 1982 matchup between the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, as suggested by one of my readers. I enjoy looking back at games that have a personal significance to my readers, so if you have a game you’d like me to “throw back” to ... please let me know.

I personally love looking back to games in the Notre Dame versus Pitt series as I was born in Pittsburgh, and most of my family went to Pitt, except for my dad and I. My dad’s first Notre Dame game was in Pittsburgh versus Pitt, and my son’s first Notre Dame game was also in Pittsburgh versus Pitt. A family tradition of sorts.

The following excerpt is from the March 15, 1983 issue of “Irish Eye: A Review of the 1982 Notre Dame Football Season.” The 1982 Notre Dame football season was the second with Gerry Faust at the helm, and the team finished with a record of 6-4-1. The Fighting Irish beat Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Miami, Navy and Pittsburgh that year. Lost to Arizona, Penn State, Air Force and USC. And tied Oregon at Autzen Stadium. The win over Michigan State was Notre Dame’s first victory in a game without scoring a touchdown since the 1970 LSU game.

Blair Kiel passed for 1273 yards that season, and three touchdowns. Phil Carter rushed for 715 yards, and two touchdowns. And Tony Hunter had 42 receptions for 507 yards. (Stats via the 2012 Notre Dame football media guide.). “Notre Dame would end up losing its last three games after winning its first four. It was a back-to-reality thud for a campaign that began with the assertiveness of a convincing victory over Michigan. Nevertheless, that domination of the Wolverines- followed up by a scintillating, last-second triumph over Miami plus the win at Pitt- proved to be the fruit of the football vine that was missing from Faust’s freshman year diet.” ~John Heisler

Let’s take a look at the 1982 Notre Dame versus Pittsburgh game, the last win for the Irish during the 1982 season.

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Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps has called Notre Dame “the world’s greatest underdog institution.”

So prior to Notre Dame’s date with unbeaten and number-one ranked Pittsburgh, football coach Gerry Faust decided to relive a little bit of that tradition with his ‘82 squad.

Faust read down a list of fabled Irish upsets: the 7-0 shutout that snapped Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak in 1957; the 1971 Cotton Bowl triumph ending Texas’ 31-game win streak; the 1973 one-point decision over previously-unbeaten Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the 38-10 ambush of number-one Texas in the 1977 Cotton Bowl that vaulted Notre Dame to the top of the polls.

The list rolled on - and it would include one more item before the day was through.

History repeated itself this clear and chilly November afternoon. Before a stunned, capacity crowd of 60,162, the Fighting Irish used the big play to shock the Panthers 31-16.

“Our kids played their hearts out today,” said an ecstatic Faust. “We’ve had to overcome some adversity the last few weeks. We thought we had great game plans both offensively and defensively, and I thought we executed very well.”

“I don’t know what to say,” explained first-year Pitt coach Foge Fazio. “This is the first time I’ve had this experience. We moved the ball well, but we couldn’t put it in the end zone.”

The Panthers put points on the board early. On their first possession of the afternoon, quarterback Dan Marino orchestrated a 12-play, 44-yard drive which resulted in a 48-yard field goal by Eric Schubert. Pitt’s scoring drive was highlighted by Marino passes of 20 yards to Barry Compton and 19 to Julius Dawkins.

The second quarter opened with Pitt once again knocking on the door. Marino threw short to Dwight Collins three times on the drive and the junior flanker, who hauled in eight passes for 109 yards in the losing effort, picked up gains of 14, 14 and eight yards. A 12-yard pass to tight end Clint Wilson on the third play of the second quarter gave Pitt a first down on the Notre Dame four.

On first down, Bryan Thomas swept left, but Chris Brown and Mike Larkin met him at the corner resulting in a yard loss. On successive plays, Marino threw incomplete passes as the Irish applied heavy pressure. Schubert came on and booted his second field goal of the afternoon - this one from 22 yards out - to extend the Panther lead to 6-0.

It would prove a game of big plays by Notre Dame, but that goal-line stand 2:06 into the second quarter might have been the critical series. Instead of being down 10-0, the Irish were less than a touchdown from taking the lead. Pitt’s offense rolled as it did for most of the contest, but the 60-yard, 11-play drive produced only three points.

The Irish failed to get a first down on their next possession. But Blair Kiel pinned Pitt back on its own nine-yard line with a 49-yard punt, and the Panthers were unable to wedge out a first down. Standing in his own end zone, Greg Ganzer shanked a 23-yard punt. Joe Johnson, while attempting a fair catch at the Pitt 36, was interfered with by Darnell Stone for a personal foul that moved the ball to the 21. Notre Dame lost two yards in three plays, but Mike Johnston cut the Panther lead in half with 8:53 left in ! the second quarter on a 38-yard field goal.

Four minutes later, Kiel punted to Jeff Casper, who fumbled near midfield, and Rick Naylor recovered for Notre Dame on the Pitt 45. Casper, ironically, was subbing for return specialist Tom Flynn, who suffered an ankle injury earlier in the game.

On first down, Kiel lofted a 30-yard pass down the middle of the field to a streaking Larry Moriarty, who got behind Rick Dukovich to make a spectacular leaping catch at the 15.

“I’ve been waiting for that all season,” Moriarty said of the pass that set up Notre Dame’s first touchdown. “I get so excited, I can’t breathe. I’m just a wild person after a play like that. I think it affects the team, too.”

“We borrowed that play from the San Diego Chargers,” explained quarterback coach Ron Hudson. “We knew that with Larry’s speed we could beat their coverage for a big gainer.”

Freshman Allen Pinkett raced around left end for 11 yards on the next play. On a first-and-goal call from the five, Moriarty hulled into the end zone following the right side of the Irish line. In 55 seconds, Notre Dame had its first lead of the afternoon at 110-6.

Pittsburgh regained the lead with 3:42 remaining in the third quarter. Marino directed a classic 18-play drive that traversed 98 yards. The march consumed 8:42 on the clock as the Panthers moved mainly via the ground route against the Irish defense. Thomas darted for 38 yards during the drive and backfield mate Joe McCall hammered for 12 more. Marino, meanwhile, kept the defense honest with passes of 11 yards to Collins, 14 to Dawkins and 15 to Keith Williams. On third and goal from the one, Thomas slanted right for Pitt’s first and only touchdown of the day. Schubert’s conversion put the Panthers out in front 13-10.

“I was worried after that long, time consuming, 98-yard drive,” said Notre Dame linebacker Mark Zavagnin, who led the defense with 16 tackles. “We may have finally gotten a little tired on that drive. But then our offense came right back and scored.”

The Fighting Irish exploded for 21 fourth-quarter points against the highly regarded Panther defense. The quarter was only 1:16 old when Kiel pitched right to Phil Carter, who started what looked like a sweep. But Carter pivoted and pitched back to Kiel, who lofted a 54-yard bomb to Joe Howard. Howard, who was well behind Dukovich and Troy Hill, gathered the ball in at the seven and scored untouched. Johnston added the extra point and in a matter of eight seconds Notre Dame regained a 17-13 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“I came up,” said Dukovich about the touchdown pass. “They disguised it well. It looked like a sweep. It was so good. That’s no excuse. You stay deep. It was a hell of a play.”

It was a flea-flicker play that Kiel couldn’t wait to use. “I was pretty excited about it,” said the Columbus, Ind., junior, who proved he, indeed, could come up with the big play. “I had to check it off a couple of earlier times because I read a blitz situation, and I would have gotten stoned. It wasn’t a perfect pass, but I’m glad that ball had a little wobble on it or I might have thrown it into the end zone.”

Marino kept Pitt’s hopes for an unbeaten season alive. Short tosses to Thomas and McCall out of the backfield netted 42 yards. On third-and-four from the Irish 31, Marino went for Dawkins on a deep post-pattern. Cornerback Chris Brown came out of nowhere to tip the pass out of Dawkins’ reach. A 47-yard field goal by Schubert with 12:14 showing on the clock brought Pitt to within a single point.

One series later, the Panthers once again were driving for the lead. From the Notre Dame 33, Marino found Dawkins open over the middle. However, with Mike Larkin in pursuit, Dawkins lost the handle and John Mosley recovered for the Irish at the 24. With the fumble, the momentum belonged to Notre Dame.

After an incomplete pass, Pinkett showed Pitt his Tony Dorsett moves by dodging five defenders and motoring 76 yards for the score. The Sterling, Va., native tried the left side of the Panther line before cutting back into the center of the field for daylight to up Notre Dame’s lead to 24-16 with 8:09 remaining.

“It was a sprint-draw play on which I have the option to go out or cut across,” said Pinkett, who riddled the Pitt defense for 112 yards on only 10 carries. “I saw the two guys collapsing on me, but a saw a little bubble between them. I just decided to get through there as quickly as I possibly could.”

The Irish defense forced Pitt to punt on the next series. Notre Dame then put together one of its most impressive drives of the 1982 campaign to seal the Panthers’ fate.

Joe Howard raced around end for 18 yards on first down from the Irish 35. After Pinkett picked up four more yards, Moriarty exploded into the secondary on a quick opener for 29 yards to the Pitt 14. Pinkett, who registered his second consecutive 100-yard game, capped off the six-play, 65-yard drive with a seven-yard scoring romp. Johnston’s conversion finished the scoring with 4:06 left.

The Pitt offense racked up 438 yards total offense with Marino passing for 314 yards on the day. Although the Panthers’ offense managed 40 more offensive plays and controlled the clock for almost 15 more minutes, the Irish defense gave up only 16 points.

“When you’ve got the athletes like they have and you hold Pitt under 21 points,” Zavagnin said, “you’ve done a heckuva job. They’re a great football team and they’re going to get their yards. But when we had to, we sucked it up. We would bend, but we wouldn’t break.”

“This is the biggest win I’ve ever experienced in my career at Notre Dame,” continued the Evergreen Park, Ill., native. “Sure we beat Michigan and Alabama in 1980, but this is the best as far as I’m concerned.”

Senior guard Tom Thayer echoed Zavagnin’s sentiments. “I’ll remember this forever,’’ said Thayer. “We’ve had some big wins since I’ve been here, like Michigan at the start of this season. But I can’t even remember the scores of those games. But 31-16. I’ll never forget that score.”

Faust can add the 31-16 victory over Pittsburgh to that list of upsets. Call it tradition. Call it mystique. It’s Notre Dame.

I hope your holiday season is going great and that you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane. Got any other games you’d like me to look back on ... please send them my way!

Cheers & GO IRISH!