The freshman tailback propelled the winning touchdown drive for Notre Dame with a 44-yard run and then a six-yard scoring scamper with just over six minutes remaining to give Notre Dame a 21-14 victory over Stanford. The Irish defense stopped the Cardinal with 30 seconds left on fourth-and-goal from the 8, and Notre Dame finished its season 3-9 behind the efforts of its first-year players.
Hughes started at running back and ran 45 yards on the game's first play from scrimmage, the longest offensive play of the season for Notre Dame. The Irish drove deep into the Stanford red zone, but on second-and-goal from the 5, Hughes caught a swing pass from Clausen and fumbled just before his knee hit the ground. Chike Amajoyi recovered, and the Cardinal took over at its own 8-yard line.
The Irish defense forced a three-and-out, but on Notre Dame's first offensive play, Stanford's Pannel Egboh beat Irish left tackle Sam Young to the outside and stripped Clausen of the ball. Udume Udofia recovered, and the Cardinal had the ball at the Notre Dame 36 without having gained a first down.
Notre Dame moved the ball to midfield before punting to the Stanford 10 and would quickly get another chance. Tom Zbikowski made a falling interception at the Stanford 14 to set up Notre Dame's first score. Tavita Pritchard's second-down pass to Richard Sherman bounced off Sherman's hands and hung in the air long enough. Clausen found Duval Kamara for a 12-yard gain to the two yard line, and Clausen took a quarterback sneak in for the score on the next play. Brandon Walker converted the point-after to give Notre Dame a 7-0 lead.
That lead would be short-lived.
Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard hit Mark Bradford in stride on third-and-7 on the ensuing drive, and Bradford weaved in and out of Irish defenders for a 42-yard gain down to the Notre Dame 24. Three plays later, Pritchard ran 13 yards to the Irish 1 on a bootleg right. On second-and-goal, Anthony Kimble scampered left and pushed a pile of Irish defenders into the end zone. The left-side referee initially marked Kimble down just shy of the goal line, but an official-initiated review overturned the ruling on the field and awarded the Cardinal with the score.
On the ensuing series, Clausen scrambled 11 yards on third-and-long, but his dive landed inches short of the first-down marker. On fourth down, Cardinal defensive end Udeme Udofia beat Irish tight end Mike Ragone, hit Hughes and gave Stanford the ball at the Notre Dame 37.
After Belch missed another 48-yard field goal attempt for Stanford, Duval Kamara hauled in a 35-yard pass from Clausen at the Cardinal 12, but fullback Asaph Schwapp fumbled on the next play, and Stanford forced its third turnover of the first half.
Once again, Notre Dame's defense bailed out its offense, forcing yet another three-and-out. But the defense could only hold for so long. Kimble's 11-yard scoring run gave Stanford a 14-7 lead with 2:54 remaining in the second quarter. Kimble broke three would-be tackles in the backfield, found a seam to the left and dashed past Joe Brockington and Ambrose Wooden, among others, for the touchdown.
The game, though, would return to its slow, balanced pace. Clausen hit George West for a nine-yard gain on the first play of the ensuing drive, and the Irish picked up the first down and more when the referees called Stanford for a late hit, though it appeared the official had not yet blown the whistle. Two incomplete passes and a holding penalty gave the Irish a third-and-20 on their own 41, but Junior Jabbie took a screen pass, aided by a downfield block from Eric Olsen, 44 yards to the Stanford 15. Three plays later, Travis Thomas bulldozed his way into the end zone, and Walker's extra point tied the game with 48 seconds left before halftime.
There was still some fun to be had before the half. Trevor Laws appeared to have cost Notre Dame a touchdown with a penalty at the end of the first half. David Bruton intercepted Pritchard's desperation heave as time expired in the second quarter before pitching the ball to Zbikowski inside the Irish 10. Zbikowski ran about 30 yards before flicking the ball to Darrin Walls, who ran down the right sideline before pitching the ball back to Zbikowski, who scampered the remainder of the way to the end zone. After a referee conference, however, Laws was called for an personal foul during the return. The referee told Weis that Laws had pushed an offensive lineman's head into the ground after blocking him on the return. The Irish received one untimed play from their own 29, and Clausen took a knee to end the half.
Zbikowski, who would later have a long punt return called back because of a block in the back, said the flagged-off touchdown stung.
"We kind of had a chance to get ahead and then the penalty is by one of your best friends," Zbikowski said. "It hurts pretty good." The fifth-year had scored a touchdown each of the past three seasons but finished his final stint at Notre Dame without a TD.
After halftime, both offenses stalled. Notre Dame switched to a deep-ball passing attack, and Stanford had difficulty moving the ball both on the ground and by air.
"The passes we were throwing, obviously you saw us taking a whole bunch of shots down the field, which with the way they play – as much pressure as they bring – you gotta try to take advantage of it," Weis said. "Because if you don't … you'll then find yourself playing with nine guys on the line of scrimmage all game."
On the first possession of the second half, Pritchard scrambled 15 yards on third-and-10 for a first down at the Cardinal 47. But the Irish forced a punt, and Zbikowski returned it 60 yards, between and over Stanford defenders, to the Cardinal 31.
Notre Dame looked like it squandered the opportunity, losing 16 yards in three plays, but Kelton Lynn roughed Irish punter Eric Maust. Notre Dame would take advantage – or so it seemed. David Grimes appeared to have made a full-extension diving catch in the end zone. The back judge, part of the on-field Big East Conference crew, called it a touchdown on the field, but the Pacific Ten Conference replay official initiated a review and overturned what appeared to be the correct call on the field.
"I thought I had it, but the refs didn't think so," Grimes said. "I know I had it."
The call cost the Irish. Brandon Walker missed a 44-yard field goal, and a good scoring chance went out the window.
"Three and nine is not acceptable, and we're all going to take this and work hard in the offseason," said Grimes, who will return in 2008 as a veteran senior receiver. He added a quip: "I'm old. I look 14, but I'm old."
Despite the missed field goal for Notre Dame, the game's turning point may have come only minutes later. Prtichard scrambled 19 yards on a third-and-nine for a first down with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter. Terrail Lambert jarred the ball loose from Pritchard with a hard hit to the head, and the officials ruled it a fumble on the field. But a booth-initiated review appeared to have correctly overturned the call, and T.C. Ostrander replaced Pritchard at quarterback for Stanford.
Cardinal kicker Belch missed a 30-yard field goal attempt on the first play of the fourth quarter after Stanford took a delay of game penalty with the offense on the field for fourth down.
Stanford would squander yet another opportunity. Early in the fourth, Clausen was under pressure and tried to throw the ball away, but Emmanuel Awofadedju intercepted the pass and returned it to the Notre Dame 45-yard line. On first down, Ostrander found Bradford for a 22-yard gain on an inside slant route. Irish freshman Brian Smith hit Ostrander on the play, and Pritchard re-entered the game for the limping Ostrander. A holding penalty on first down forced first-and-19 from the Irish 31, and Stanford couldn't recover. After an incompletion, a loss of one on a Pritchard scramble and an incomplete screen pass, Belch missed wide right a 49-yard field goal attempt.
On the ensuing possession, Clausen hit Kamara for 13-yard gain to the Notre Dame 45. Two plays later, Hughes ran inside, bounced off several would-be tacklers, sprinted left and scampered 44 yards to the Stanford 8-yard line. On second-and-goal, Hughes took an inside handoff and faked out a defender for the six-yard touchdown. Stanford would drive, but the Cardinal would not score.
Outside Stanford Stadium, it appeared Notre Dame would hold the advantage in the stands. Inside, it was about 50/50, with the Irish fans making their voices known after the game. The announced crowd was 48,953 though the actual attendance looked closer to 30,000.