4Q: Ukropina saves the day (37-35)

"Conrad Ukropina's first attempt of the day couldn't come at a bigger time, and it's a no-doubter straight down the pipes that probably connects from 53. What a last-second win, as Ukropina bails out the team tonight! The playoff dream lives on, if only by the thinnest of margins."

Notre Dame 29, Stanford 28, start fourth quarter

Hope we have a two-point play ready, but first, just a beautiful touchdown call. Cardinal fake a run right, Hogan rolls that way, and then it's a throwback to Austin Hooper, who had space to cross the goal line in the left corner of the end zone with yards to spare.

Why are we kicking the extra point here?!? Oh no, hope that doesn't come back to bite us.

Stanford 35, Notre Dame 29, 14:55 remaining fourth quarter

Kevin Hogan now 15-of-18 for 236 yards and four touchdowns, in perhaps his best day ever in a Stanford uniform. Only close comparison would be the UCLA game last year, I'd think.

Irish forced into another, rare, third down, this one third and four after Blake Martinez swatted away a first-down pass and Josh Adams ran for six on second. And on third down, again the linebacking corps strikes, with Peter Kalambayi swatting away a pass, and the FOX cameras do well to capture the looks of incredulity on the defense's faces. We forced these guys to a punt?!?

Okay, touchdown and two and I'm feeling pretty darn good right now. Field goal helps, but we need to be aggressive and not leave any points on the table (or try to run between the tackles and run clock), because obviously Notre Dame can score in bunches. Just stick with the creativity that's been paying wonders so far and don't turtle up.

Ugh, we come out super heavy, though it does work as McCaffrey runs for five. With 14 minutes left, points, not time, has to be the goal for this drive. Third and one after two McCaffrey runs. Jerry Tillery drives Graham Shuler three yards into the backfield and stuffs McCaffrey, great individual play. Hard to complain about the playcalling, because running for five, four and then the resulting third and one makes perfect sense, but the net result is that Notre Dame has a chance to take the lead with a score here, and our guy who is throwing for 13 yards per pass on 80 percent accuracy didn't throw it once. Remember, Notre Dame is also missing their starting corner, so it's up to us to exploit that.

Irish at their 29 with 11:40 left, and Adams again trips for three or four when he was probably blocked for eight. A few times the Irish have gone down without contact today. It matters because an edge run to the short side of the field goes nowhere, and Notre Dame is in an obvious passing down at third and 10. Five Cardinal defenders are camped out on the first-down line, and Will Fuller has an opening, but drops the rock. Hey, we'll take it, and the Irish punt for the second straight possession, with McCaffrey fair-catching at the 20. 51-yard punt with a fair catch, sheesh.

Who'd have thunk that the Irish would be the squad with two 100-yard rushers -- but Adams and Kizer are both over the century mark as the Irish have 261 ground yards on 26 carries. McCaffrey now at 90 yards after taking a wildcat snap for eight with Bryce Love in motion. The carry puts McCaffrey over 3,000 all-purpose yards on the season, trailing only Barry Sanders and Antonio Andrews with over two games to play.

Okay, I am officially not a fan of making this so ground-based, as a McCaffrey pitch to the short side of the field goes nowhere, and now the Card are behind the eight ball on second and ten. Michael Rector runs a flare and catches a Hogan ball for six. Third and four, and we take McCaffrey off and run Hogan for two. Hogan was lucky to get two too, as about four defenders broke off their men to bring Hogan down once he started to tuck. Do not like this at all. We are playing not to lose, and if you give Notre Dame enough cracks at it, eventually they are going to connect.

Sure enough, Notre Dame goes back to the short passes, and with over six minutes left and needing just a touchdown to win, plenty of time left for the Irish. Fuller catches for 14 before Adams runs for three. Irish now to their 29, and make that the 39 after a 10-yard Irish run behind a pulling guard and tight end. 5:23 to go, Kizer fires low and incomplete. If we had kept throwing it, you'd think we'd be up by two scores now, and my heart rate would be much more comfortable... Card rush three on second down, but Kizer just throws away as there is no one open. Five minutes left, chance to get the Irish off the field yet again on third and ten, but instead, Kizer releases just before getting blown up by Kalambayi, and it's a 21-yard gain. Clock ticking toward four minutes, but given that the Irish would pull ahead with a score, not sure if that's good or bad news for us...

Irish for five, and a lot of hands on hips for the Stanford defense. On measurement, first down Notre Dame at the Card 29 with 3:27 to go and counting. Irish going into five-minute offense mode here, running a lot of clock between snaps. Kizer keeps for four and then for eight, as they have a fresh set of downs at the Card 19 with 2:30 and counting. Time for one last, heroic stand.

Screen for eight, two minutes and counting, Irish have second and two at the Card nine but lose a yard on a Kizer keeper. Notre Dame uses a timeout before the third and three with 1:09 to play.

Whatever happens, we made this so much harder on ourselves than it needed to be. Hogan was unstoppable, 16-of-19 for 242 yards and four touchdowns. But do we turn to him for a two-point conversion to go up by a touchdown? Do we ask him to throw it more than once on our final two drives? No, we stopped our own best weapon so that the Irish wouldn't have to.

Third down run and the Irish are half a yard short. So fourth and ballgame from the Cardinal eight, clock nearing 30 seconds. Adams converts to the two, heartbreaker.

Kizer scores on a bootleg but there's a flag -- no wait, offsides on Stanford, declined. Notre Dame has just stolen this one from under Stanford's noses. On replay, Kizer might be inches short of the end zone, but it would actually be better for the Cardinal if the touchdown stands. The call stands, and I think it's too close to overturn. Irish extra point up and good and Stanford had a chance to have this game wrapped up. Instead, they're going to need a last-second miracle.

Notre Dame 36, Stanford 35, 30 seconds remaining

McCaffrey returns to the 26, 25 seconds remaining, Card have all three timeouts. We need about 40 yards to get into field goal range. Facemask against Notre Dame advances us to the 42, and we use our first timeout with 20 seconds left.

We should have gone for two. We should have not tried to run out the clock on a day when our passing attack could not be stopped and our senior quarterback (on Senior Day, of all days) is 80 percent accurate at 13 yards per pop. Would have been nice to use some timeouts as Notre Dame neared the Stanford goalline.

All that could be moot now, though, as Hogan bombs incomplete to a double-covered Rector on the left sideline. Then Hogan bombs over the middle and Devon Cajuste comes through, catching and running for 27, down to the Irish 30. Timeout. McCaffrey up the middle for two, final timeout. Notre Dame timeout. Conrad Ukropina's first attempt of the day couldn't come at a bigger time, and it's a no-doubter straight down the pipes that probably connects from 53. What a last-second win, as Ukropina bails out the team tonight! The playoff dream lives on, if only by the thinnest of margins.

Stanford 37, Notre Dame 35, Final


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