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PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst kept telling his players to put last year's late meltdown against Notre Dame out of their mind heading into Saturday night's rematch.
Turn the page, he kept telling them. The next time will be different, he insisted.
He was more right than he knew.
James Conner ran for two short touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 9:36 remaining and Pittsburgh upset the Fighting Irish 28-21.
"You would like to say that we get up for every game, but we can't be naive about it," quarterback Tom Savage said.
"It's Notre Dame. It's a fun game. We're in prime time, and this is every college kid's dream to go out there and play in front of everyone like that and come out with a win."
One the Panthers (5-4) believe can propel them through the final three weeks of the regular season.
Savage passed for 243 yards and two scores to Devin Street as the Panthers took advantage of some sloppy play by Notre Dame (7-3) to end the Irish's four-game winning streak.
The Irish turned it over three times, including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by Tommy Rees. Rees completed 18 of 39 for 318 yards and two touchdowns but was picked off by Pitt's Ray Vinopal on consecutive passes in the final quarter.
Vinopal's first grab, a diving snag in the end zone, kept the game tied at 21. His second helped give the Panthers the lead for good.
Vinopal stepped in front of an overthrown Rees pass down the seam at midfield and returned it 40 yards to set up Conner's 1-yard plunge.
"All week, our coaches fed us tips about where to play these guys," Vinopal. "They did a great job putting me in a position to succeed."
Street, a fifth-year senior, caught four passes for 76 yards, including a 63-yard score in the third quarter that knotted the game at 21 late in the third quarter.
Saluting a raucous student section in the giddy aftermath, Street had little trouble calling it the biggest victory of his career.
"We lost a couple games in a row and could have laid down and went south," he said. "But we're here to win out. We want to win the rest of our games."
TJ Jones caught six passes for 149 yards and a touchdown and ran for another but Notre Dame's hopes for a Bowl Championship Series bowl bid vanished in a sloppy final 15 minutes.
"The execution on offense was awful," coach Brian Kelly said. "Defensively we kept drives alive with pass interference penalty, a personal foul. We weren't alert to enough to get on the ball on a fumble. And we gave up an explosive play in the passing game and we didn't coach well enough. It's on everybody."
The previous five meetings between the two schools had been decided by six points or fewer, including a triple-overtime escape by the Irish last year in South Bend that kept their perfect regular season alive.
The Panthers blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and a short field goal in overtime that would have pulled off the upset.
This time, Pitt kept its composure and provided Chryst with his first signature win since taking over nearly two years ago.
Of course, Rees did his part to help.
Notre Dame was driving for a go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter when Rees floated a pass to the back of the end zone that Vinopal jumped in front of to end the threat.
Pitt punted, but Rees gave it right back. He tried to go deep down the seam but overshot his receiver. The ball sailed into Vinopal's hands and the safety raced downfield to set up Conner's second touchdown.
"You can't turn the ball over and I take responsibility for that," Rees said. "You know, when you put your defense in compromising situations like that, it's hard for your defense to make stops."
The Irish drove to the Pitt 38 on its final drive, but Rees' fourth-down pass to DaVaris Daniels was knocked away by Panthers defensive back Anthony Gonzalez.
"We go back to square one," Jones said. "No one's happy. You're thinking about mistakes that cost us the game. We should be 8-2 right now."