SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson took matters into his own hands as Notre Dame preserved its national championship hopes with a 29-26 triple-overtime victory over Pitt on Saturday.
Golson set up the game-winner with a 6-yard run to the Pitt 1-yard line then bulled through the line as the Irish remained unbeaten.
"(Golson's) not perfect," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "But he competes. And, man, he just kept competing in the second half and found a way for us to get enough points on the board."
Pitt's Kevin Harper had given the visitors a 26-23 lead in the third overtime with a 44-yard field goal.
Notre Dame, which entered the game third in the BCS rankings, improved to 9-0 for the first time since 1993.
Unranked Pitt, which had beaten Notre Dame in two of three previous meetings in South Bend, slipped to 4-5.
Golson had a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes then ran for a two-point conversion as the Irish forced a 20-20 tie with 2:11 left in regulation.
"Golson is explosive, and he hurt us," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "I thought we did some good things, guys threw it around and we had opportunities, (but) we didn't take advantage of them enough."
The teams matched field goals in the first overtime. In the second extra period, Irish back Theo Riddick fumbled in the end zone on a short dive, then a potential game-winning 33-yard field goal by Harper sailed wide right.
Golson was 23 of 42 for 227 yards and rushed for 74 more. Riddick rushed 22 times for 85 yards while DaVaris Daniels had seven catches for 86 yards. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri was 19 of 29 for 164 yards while tailback Ray Graham rushed 24 times for 172 yards.
"I was pretty confident," Golson said. "I think I did a good job of being with the team down the stretch. Coming out today, I knew we came out a little flat. I missed a couple of reads that I should have had. We put three points on the board (twice in the first half) when we should have put six. But I felt like down the stretch we came together."
Sunseri said the Panthers missed an opportunity for a signature victory.
"We had opportunities, and we let them slip away," Sunseri said. "Whenever you have a top-five football team like that on the ropes and you have a chance to end the game, you have to be able to take advantage of it."
Notre Dame's first touchdown of the day came as Golson connected on an 11-yard score with T.J. Jones with 13:40 left in regulation. Kyle Brindza's extra point failed, leaving Pitt ahead 20-12.
With just over three minutes left, a poised and well-protected Golson took time to finally find wide receiver Daniels on a 45-yard play to the Pitt 5-yard line.
One play later, Golson scrambled to his right and fired to Riddick with 2:11 to play and then ran for the two-point conversion and a tie.
The Panthers used early red zone defense, a reversed Irish touchdown and efficient passing by Sunseri to open a second-quarter lead it held until late in regulation.
Leading 10-6 late in the third quarter, the Panthers used Eric Williams' interception of Tommy Rees and Sunseri's back-to-back connections with tight end J.P. Holtz to extend their advantage to 17-6.
Sunseri and Holtz combined on a 43-yard gainer to the Irish 9. One play later, Sunseri hit Holtz on a TD strike with 5:52 remaining in the quarter.
But a later Pitt drive inside the Irish 5 broke down, and Harper drilled a 21-yard field goal -- his second field goal of the game -- for a 20-6 lead with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
Notre Dame and Golson saw two promising first-half drives stall inside the Pitt 20. On their opening possession, the Irish advanced to the Panther 18 then settled for Brindza's 37-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Pitt replied with a seven-play, 65-yard drive capped by Harper's 39-yard field goal to tie the game.
The Irish moved to the Panther 1-foot line with less than 11 minutes to go and appeared to score on Riddick's reach over the goal line. The touchdown was overruled when officials ruled Riddick's knee touched the ground at the 2-yard line.
Two plays later, Pitt linebacker Shane Gordon broke through the line to smother Riddick at the 5 and Brindza kicked a 22-yard field goal for a 6-3 lead.
Pitt then marched 58 yards in six plays on the way to a 10-6 lead as Graham eluded several Irish tacklers on a 16-yard sweep down the right sideline with 3:55 left.
Brindza's bid to trim the margin just before halftime failed when his 43-yard field goal try went wide right.
Notre Dame held Pitt to 308 yards, and the defense was extremely effective in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Irish held Pitt to two yards rushing on 14 carries, 19 yards passing and one first down.
"They out-executed us," Chryst said. "I don't feel like they did a lot of things different, but I though we didn't get it done and they did."
NOTES: Pitt's most recent win at Notre Dame Stadium was a 36-33 come-from-behind triumph in 2008. ... The Irish are now 418-133-15 (.752) when ranked in the Top 25 and 82-20-2 (.798) when ranked among the nation's Top 5. ... The Panthers became only the third team this season to score on the Irish in the opening quarter. Miami and Oklahoma also had first quarter field goals but no foe has managed a touchdown during the first 15 minutes. ... Manti Te'o ran his consecutive start streak to a team-high 44 with Saturday's ninth of the season. ... Graham's 55-yard first quarter run was the longest by an Irish opponent this season. ... Saturday's flag presentation at Notre Dame Stadium featured 12 present and former Irish athletes who participated in the 2012 London Olympics. ... Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's career record against Pitt improved to 5-1 while it was the first meeting for the Panthers' Paul Chryst.