By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND -- Maybe the sprinklers coming on at Notre Dame Stadium during the first overtime against Pittsburgh was symbolic of how the Fighting Irish thought the game was over long before it was.
The sprinklers came on in the north end of the field at 6:07 p.m., when Pitt had the ball at the 25-yard line at the other end with the score tied at 24. But the Irish thought they had the game won long before that.
"We basically just gave them the game," safety David Bruton said.
Notre Dame scored two touchdowns 83 seconds apart just before halftime to open a 17-3 lead, then let a Panthers squad coming off an embarrassing loss to Rutgers and playing without their starting quarterback get back into the game as Pitt won 36-33 in four overtimes.
"We weren't playing the same we did in the first half," receiver Golden Tate said. "I feel like we left some plays on the field. We let up, and the next thing you know it's a tied ball game."
The game came down to a field-goal kicking contest, something the Irish definitely didn't want. Just two weeks ago, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis invited a student who had stood out kicking field goals in intramural games to come out for the team because Weis was so worried about his team's place-kicking.
But Brandon Walker, who started the season 1-of-7 on field goals, made his first four attempts Saturday, running his streak to seven straight, before narrowly missing a 38-yard attempt.
Weis said he told Walker after the game not to blame himself for the loss, saying there were 50 plays that could have changed the game's outcome.
One of the plays that could have changed the game came on the opening drive of the second half when on third-and-8 from the Pitt 31, the Irish held the Panthers to a 4-yard gain. But Notre Dame linebacker Harrison Smith was called for a late hit to keep the drive alive. The Panthers scored to cut the lead to 17-10.
Another potentially game-changing play came on the first play of the second overtime, when Jimmy Clausen overthrew a wide-open Michael Floyd in the end zone.
"I wish I could have that one back," Clausen said.
The Irish now have lost three games to ranked teams, losing 23-7 to No. 18 Michigan State and 29-24 to No. 19 North Carolina. Pitt moved up to No. 25 on Sunday.
The Irish led North Carolina 17-9 at halftime, but let the Tar Heels get back into it on the first play of the second half when Quan Sturdivant returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown. A week earlier, Stanford scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to close to 28-21 but the Irish held on for the win.
Safety David Bruton said the inability to finish off opponents is a cause for concern.
"We've got to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said. "We've got to keep working and in the next game, put it away when we have the lead."
Weis, though, said Sunday he doesn't believe most players thought the game was won. He said the Irish just need to win a game like Saturday.
"You have to win a couple of these close games, and I think your momentum grows from there," he said.
For the Irish, it was another squandered chance to gain some national respect.
"I think we missed a huge opportunity," Tate said. "We would have been bowl-eligible right there, we probably would have made the Top 25 and we would have gained respect from the world. So it's a huge missed opportunity."
Weis is worried about how his players, many of whom looked stunned after the game, will react coming off such a disappointing loss when they face Boston College (5-3), which has lost consecutive games to North Carolina and Clemson. So he's going to change the practice schedule this week to try to shake things up.
"I'm really trying to do more than anything else is shock their system, you know, get them out of a rut," he said. "I had to come up with a plan to make sure that it wasn't just business as usual."
Notes: Notre Dame's game against Boston College 8 p.m. Saturday will be broadcast on ESPN, it was announced Sunday. ... Right guard Chris Stewart injured his knee and may need arthroscopic surgery, Weis said. If so, he'd likely be out about four weeks.