Notre Dame 45, Pittsburgh 21
October 11, 1997 – Pitt Stadium

by Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

PITTSBURGH – Never underestimate the power of a win.

Notre Dame’s 45-21 victory over Pittsburgh did more than just end a four-game, 35-day victory drought for the 2-4 Irish football team.

Though it was a definite “good news, bad news” situation, the positive impact of the game will likely be able to be measured down the road.

“I missed seeing those white teeth,” said Irish coach Bob Davie, who showed off his quite often after the game. “It’s nice to see the players smile again.”

“After a win, you have an opportunity to feel good about yourself,” Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus said. “It’s easier to go to practice Monday and get up Sunday when you feel good about yourself. A lot of things are easier to do.”

The good news can start with the numbers the Irish offense put up. Notre Dame rushed for 317 yards on 52 attempts (the Irish averaged 130 rushing yards a game heading into the contest), by far the best effort this season. Autry Denson (19 carries for 128 yards) and Clement Stokes (15 for 109) were dominating for Notre Dame.

In a performance more characteristic with his previous three years than this season, Powlus threw just 20 passes, completing 13 for 160 yards.

“We have to keep a balanced offense,” Irish offensive guard Mike Rosenthal said. “When (the Panthers) show an eight-man line, you have to throw the ball. When they’re going to let you have the run, you have to run it right down their throats.”

“Our offensive linemen made up their minds that they were going to play well,” Powlus said. “I believe in our linemen and our backs.”

Big plays were a big part of the Irish success. Allen Rossum started the game by returning the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. Rossum has had success against the Panthers, returning two punts for touchdowns last year. Also, about seven minutes later, Denson dashed 50 yards for a touchdown to account for the only scoring of the first half.

“There’s no way I couldn’t have scored,” Denson said. “I looked up ahead of me and saw everybody lying on the ground. All I had to do was run.”

More good news came from the Irish defense. Though allowing 349 yards to a sometimes inept Pitt offense, Notre Dame kept the Panthers scoreless in the first half. After an interception by Hank Poteat, Pitt had a first down on the Irish 9. Three plays and a penalty later, the Panthers missed a 32-yard field goal.

“Our defense made some big plays, especially after the interception,” Davie said. “That was important.”

The bad news has to be taken in the context of the opposition. Pittsburgh, 3-3 and coming off a loss to Temple, may be the second-worst team the Irish will play this season, just a bit ahead of Hawaii.

Notre Dame failed to score on two deep penetrations in the first half against a Pitt defense that was decidedly outmanned. With Jarious Jackson in at quarterback to engineer the short-yardage “T” (formation), the Irish had three tries to score from the 2-yard line. A handoff to Denson and two gives to running back Tony Driver netted just one yard and Pitt took over.

With 56 seconds left in the first half, Notre Dame took over the ball on the Pitt 42-yard line and could only move the ball six yards before time ran out.

The best news for Notre Dame in the second half was scoring 10 points in the third quarter, the first time the Irish have scored after halftime this season. First blood came on a Jim Sanson 22-yard field goal. Even though Notre Dame started with great field position on the Pitt 30 after a poor punt, putting any points on the board to get over the mental block was a big relief.

“We knew we needed to play well in the third quarter,” Powlus said. “We had an opportunity to get the ball downfield and we made some things happen.”

“Today’s game was a game where we were up against a talented, powerful football team,” Pitt coach Walt Harris said. “My job is to get our guys to work hard and I believe that they gave that kind of effort.”

The effort paid off for Pitt in the second half. While putting 21 points on the board, the Panthers narrowed the difference to 10 at one point, 24-14, when Kevan Barlow scored on a five-yard run.

“The encouraging thing was that every time Pitt scored, we were able to answer it,” Davie said. “We didn’t let bad things hurt us. We made up our minds to control what we can control.”

Highlights of the second half included a pair of touchdowns by Jackson – one on a three-yard run on the only option play called all day and the other on a 40-yard return of an onside kick with just a few seconds left in the game. Denson scored his second TD and fullback Jamie Spencer, back to full speed after knee and ankle problems, scored on a 22-yard run.

Scoring Summary

Notre Dame 14 0 10 21 – 45Pittsburgh 0 0 14 7 – 21

First Quarter
ND: Allen ROSSUM 93 kickoff return (Jim SANSON PAT), 14:43 left. Score: Notre Dame 7, Pittsburgh 0.

ND: Autry DENSON 50 run (SANSON PAT), 8:12 left. Drive: 66 yards, 4 plays, 1:43 elapsed after Pittsburgh fails to convert on fourth down. Key play: Ron Powlus to Bobby Brown for 8 on 3rd and 2 from the ND 42. Score: Notre Dame 14, Pittsburgh 0.

Third Quarter
ND: SANSON 22 FG, 10:02 left. Drive: 25 yards, 9 plays, 2:48 elapsed after Pittsburgh punt. Key play: Denson for 2 on 3rd and 2 from the UP 22. Score: Notre Dame 17, Pittsburgh 0.

UP: Dwayne SCHULTERS 6 run (Chris FERENCIK PAT), 7:31 left. Drive: 80 yards, 6 plays, 2:31 elapsed after Notre Dame kickoff. Key play: Pete Gonzalez to Terry Murphy for 34 on 1st and 10 from the UP 48. Score: Notre Dame 17, Pittsburgh 7.

ND: Jamie SPENCER 23 run (SANSON PAT), 3:49 left. Drive: 65 yards, 9 plays, 3:42 elapsed after Pittsburgh kickoff. Key play: Powlus to Malcolm Johnson for 19 on 3rd and 13 from the ND 32. Score: Notre Dame 24, Pittsburgh 7.

UP: Kevan BARLOW 9 run (FERENCIK PAT), 0:45 left. Drive: 59 yards, 9 plays, 3:04 elapsed after Notre Dame kickoff. Key play: Gonzalez to Jake Hoffart for 24 on 1st and 10 from the ND 48. Score: Notre Dame 24, Pittsburgh 14.

Fourth Quarter
ND: Autry DENSON 2 run (SANSON PAT), 12:56 left. Drive: 73 yards, 8 plays, 2:49 elapsed after Pittsburgh kickoff. Key play: Powlus to M. Johnson for 9 on 3rd and 6 from the UP 11. Score: Notre Dame 31, Pittsburgh 14.

ND: Jarious JACKSON 3 run (SANSON PAT), 3:59 left. Drive: 83 yards, 13 plays, 7:13 elapsed after Pittsburgh fumble. Key play: Powlus to M. Johnson for 15 on 3rd and 7 from the UP 31. Score: Notre Dame 38, Pittsburgh 14.

UP: MURPHY 9 pass from GONZALEZ (FERENCIK PAT), 0:18 left. Drive: 67 yards, 13 plays, 3:41 elapsed after Notre Dame kickoff. Key play: Gonzalez to Hoffart for 11 on 3rd and 7 from the ND 46. Score: Notre Dame 38, Pittsburgh 21.

ND: JACKSON 40 kickoff return (SANSON PAT), 0:13 left. Score: Notre Dame 45, Pittsburgh 21.

Attendance – 47,306


ND UPFirst Downs 27 22Rushing 16 8Passing 9 12Penalty 2 2Rushing Attempts 52 36Yards Rushing 325 164Yards Lost Rushing 8 31Net Yards Rushing 317 133Net Yards Passing 160 216Passes Attempted 20 34Passes Completed 13 16Had Intercepted 1 0Total Offensive Plays 72 70Total Net Yards 477 349Average Gain Per Play 6.6 5.0Fumbles: Number-Lost 1-0 2-1Penalties: Number-Yards 6-47 6-54Number of Punts-Yards 1-27 5-209Average Per Punt 27.0 41.8Punt Returns: Number-Yards 2-12 0-0Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards 4-167 5-121Interceptions: Number-Yards 0-0 1-42Possession Time 31:17 28:43Third Down Conversions 7-12 5-13Fourth Down Conversions 0-2 1-2Sacks by: Number-Yards 2-21 1-6

Notre Dame

RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGAutry Denson 19 129 1 128 2 50Clement Stokes 15 109 0 109 0 17Jamie Spencer 6 41 1 40 1 23Ken Barry 5 19 0 19 0 7Tony Driver 4 15 0 15 0 9Jarious Jackson 1 3 0 3 1 3Ron Powlus 2 9 6 3 0 9

PASSING ATT COMP INT YDS TD LGRon Powlus 20 13 1 160 0 39

RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGMalcolm Johnson 5 64 0 19Bobby Brown 3 60 0 39Raki Nelson 2 16 0 12Ken Barry 1 12 0 12Clement Stokes 1 6 0 6Autry Denson 1 2 0 2

PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGHunter Smith 1 27 27.0 27

RETURNS PR KO INTSAutry Denson 1-11 – -Jarious Jackson – 1-40 -Deveron Harper – 2-34 -Allen Rossum – 1-93 –


RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGDwayne Schulters 17 94 3 91 1 13Kevan Barlow 11 46 6 40 1 9Pete Gonzalez 7 24 21 3 0 10Chris Schneider 1 0 1 -1 0 -1

PASSING ATT COM INT YDS TD LGPete Gonzalez 32 16 0 216 1 43Kevan Barlow 1 0 0 0 0 0Matt Lytle 1 0 0 0 0 0

RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGJake Hoffart 6 77 0 24Terry Murphy 3 86 1 43Dwayne Schulters 3 20 0 10John Jones 1 14 0 14Kirk McMullen 1 11 0 11Juan Williams 1 6 0 6Cheo Angel 1 2 0 2

PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGGrant Coffield 5 209 41.8 61

RETURNS PR KO INTSDwayne Schulters – 2-51 -LaFann Williams – 1-(-3) -Hank Poteat – 2-73 1-42