SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame knew what was coming. Stanford doesn’t get cute inches from the goal line.
And after three years of getting pushed around by the Cardinal, the Fighting Irish pushed back, winning the most important shoving match they’ve had all season.
Or did they?
A wall of Notre Dame defenders stopped Stepfan Taylor inches from the end zone on fourth down in overtime and the seventh-ranked Irish remained unbeaten with a 20-13 victory against the No. 17 Cardinal on a soggy Saturday in South Bend.
Taylor went up the middle and was knocked back, but kept reaching and turning with bodies underneath him. His knee never did hit the ground before reaching the ball across the goal line. But the officials ruled it was too late. The whistle had blown, and that meant the play was stopped.
Taylor finished with 102 yards on 28 carries. He needed 103.
The celebration had to wait for a replay review. The call stood. Irish fans who weren’t already on the field spilled out of the stands, and Notre Dame’s national title hopes remained alive. The Irish are 6-0 for the first time since 2002.
“Physically, we controlled the line of scrimmage," Irish coach Brian Kelly said of the last play. “Classic. Classic goal line stand."
Stanford coach David Shaw wasn’t so sure.
“I didn’t get a view of the last play," Shaw said. “Stepfan swore to me that he got in. That he put the ball over the goal line on the second effort. The officials looked at it and they said he didn’t get in, so he didn’t get in."
TJ Jones made a reaching 7-yard touchdown catch from Tommy Rees on the first overtime possession to give the Fighting Irish a lead.
Stanford (4-2) responded by driving to a first-and-goal at the 4.
Behind his big, strong offensive line, Taylor ran for 1 on first, 2 on second and about a foot on third down. That left one play from inside the 1 and the Notre Dame defense, led by Carlos Calabrese, held up Taylor and moved him backward.
“When you’re talking to your team all week about a heavyweight match, and you can’t keep taking body blows, you have to stand in there and sooner or later, you’ve got to be the one that delivers," Kelly said.
It had been a few years since that was the case for Notre Dame against Stanford. The Cardinal had won three straight meetings, physically dominating the Irish, with Andrew Luck at the helm.
With Luck gone to the NFL, the Irish stood up to the bullies.
Rees relieved Everett Golson late in the fourth quarter, but this was different from when he did it against Purdue in September and led the Irish to a winning field goal. Golson took a helmet to the head during Notre Dame’s game-tying field goal drive late in the fourth.
In the overtime, Rees floated a 16-yard pass to Theo Riddick to convert a third-and-8 to the 7. On the next play, he threw behind Jones on a slant and the receiver reached back for a sliding two-handed catch and a 20-13 lead.
“He made a great catch," Rees said.
Then the Fighting Irish defense, which has now not given up a touchdown in four straight games, made it stand.
In other Pac-12 games on Saturday:
No. 11 USC 24
SEATTLE — Anthony Brown blocked a punt and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown in the first half, Jawanza Starling forced and recovered Keith Price’s fumble inside the USC 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, and the No. 11 Trojans overcame offensive inconsistency for a win over Washington. Silas Redd rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in the first half and Matt Barkley added an 18-yard TD pass to Xavier Grimble as the Trojans (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) continued rebuilding their resume following last month’s loss to Stanford that appeared to end their national championship hopes. Washington (3-3, 1-2) held USC scoreless in the second half.
Washington State 17
PULLMAN, Wash. — Quarterback Zach Maynard threw for a touchdown and ran for another as California won. C.J. Anderson rushed for two touchdowns as the Golden Bears (3-4, 2-2 Pac-12) earned their eighth straight win over the Cougars. Washington State (2-5, 0-4) has lost four in a row, and new coach Mike Leach is still looking for his first Pac-12 win.
PASADENA, Calif. — Brett Hundley passed for 183 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 68 yards and another score, and UCLA’s defense largely shut down Utah. Johnathan Franklin rushed for 79 yards and a TD for the Bruins (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12). Utah freshman quarterback Travis Wilson passed for 220 yards in his first career start, but the Utes (2-4, 0-3) lost their third straight.