Irish stay unbeaten in 3-OT thriller

Everyone loves a good fairy tale. So here’s one from Notre Dame Saturday, against a blue November sky . . .

With the Irish in trouble, a wise and patient Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly, benched his quarterback, Everett Golson, with a lesson in mind. Later, he put his QB back in for the toughest part of the game, and Golson courageously saved the day.

Another Notre Dame miracle! Golson was even awarded the game ball.

Well, that’s nice, isn’t it?

I feel fairly sure it’s going to be portrayed that way, too, because this is Notre Dame. But none of it is true, other than the game-ball part. Also, Notre Dame did beat Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime. In other words, Pitt is so bad that Notre Dame was unable to lose no matter what it did.

The truth is, the Irish were in complete collapse for most of the game.

Missed extra points, missed tackles, a punt returner who wouldn’t bother to catch the ball and maybe worst of all:

A panicking head coach.

Kelly was a mess as Notre Dame’s perfect season seemed to be dissolving at home to Pitt, which had been crushed this year by Youngstown State.

In fairness, any coach might be upset with a team trying to win a national championship without a quarterback. But when it was over, Kelly oddly chewed out a student newspaper reporter for, uh, nothing.

And what a strange contrast between fairy tale and reality. At roughly the same time that Notre Dame was piping in the theme song to “Rudy’’ over the PA, Phillip Daniels, former NFL player and father of Irish receiver DaVaris Daniels, tweeted this:

“If #ND don’t pull this off, coaching will be to blame with QB switch.’’

Kelly had benched Golson for the last drive of the second quarter and into the second half. But after backup Tommy Rees threw an interception, Kelly suddenly put Golson back in.

The handling of Golson was just so strange, after he had played his best game the previous week at Oklahoma.

“He missed a number of things that we thought he needed to have down by this time . . .’’ Kelly said his starting QB. “It’s just progressions, coverage reads.

"Just things that he’d come in and say, `I missed it’ and `My bad.’ We’re trying to win a football game.’’

Golson was his usual extremes after he came back in, with a brilliant touchdown pass on the run, an interception thrown way too short, a heave for a deep pass and a scramble for the game-winning touchdown.

In the final minutes, with Notre Dame still trying to come back, I stood on the sideline when Doug Flutie angrily asked why the clock was still running when “We’’ were out of bounds.

We, meaning Notre Dame? Didn’t Flutie, who was working the game for NBC, go to Boston College?

There was plenty of confusion. Notre Dame had all but lost when Golson threw an incomplete pass on fourth down late in the game. But Pitt was called for pass interference, giving Notre Dame the ball back. It was a bad call. Even Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former VP of officiating and current rules analyst for FOX Sports, said so.

The Irish scored a touchdown on the next play. Later, Golson threw an interception with less than four minutes left. He would get one last chance: And he scrambled around beautifully, then chucked the ball aimlessly downfield, and Daniels made a the catch to put Notre Dame into position for a game-tying touchdown.

“We would have liked to have thrown it a long time earlier than that, when he was wide open,’’ Kelly said. “He didn’t. He stayed alive, and he got the ball down the field. I mean, we’re coming to understand that we’re not perfect, as you know.

“But the kid competes, and he’s got a strong arm. Put the ball in a good position . . .’’

In overtime, Notre Dame’s Cierre Wood fumbled while trying to run into the end zone. A few minutes later, Pitt had a 33-yard field-goal attempt for the win.

Kicker Kevin Harper missed it right. Golson finally won the game on his run.

It will be interesting to see if the Irish move up in the BCS standings, closer to the national championship game. It depends if voters saw a fairy tale Saturday, or reality.

The Irish are 9-0, and ranked No. 3. If you believe in style points to convince voters, then this shouldn’t help. But I still believe there is no way voters will leave an undefeated Notre Dame out of the title game, no matter what the BCS formulas say. The Irish are now No. 3.

It’s a little hard to see exactly what Notre Dame has accomplished, despite its record. It has the standout win at Oklahoma. Besides that, not much. It beat Stanford because of a series of bad calls by the officials. It barely beat a bad Brigham Young team at home.

And now this mess.

In fairness to the Irish, the defense did take over in the fourth quarter Saturday, after having its worst first half of the year. And when you’re a team based on defense, you are not going to have the prettiest, highlight-film type of games.

“We found a way to win,’’ Kelly said. “That’s a good thing.’’

Yes, if you didn’t see it.