There isn't any way to win a game closer than the way the Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat the Stanford Cardinal at a rain-soaked Notre Dame Stadium Saturday.
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was stopped by the narrowest margin on the game's final play, twisting on top of the pile before stretching for the goal line as Notre Dame began to celebrate.
The whistle blew as his forward progress was stopped, but it was unclear whether Taylor's body ever touched the ground. The ball did eventually break the plane, but it was determined by replay that the play had already been blown dead.
The Irish defense stood tall all afternoon, but the four-play goal-line stand in overtime that secured the victory may be a defining moment for the team this season.
All day, as they have done all season, the Notre Dame defense kept the Irish alive.
Manti Te'o and Stephon Tuitt were each in on seemingly every play, and once again the much-maligned Irish secondary made plays all day.
For the fourth consecutive game the opponent was held out of the end zone; Stanford was held under 300 total yards and managed only 125 yards passing.
Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes helped the Irish cause by corkscrewing several balls into the dirt rather than into the arms of open receivers—in addition to throwing a pair of huge interceptions.
In the first quarter following a Notre Dame fumble, Nunes underthrew a corner route that was open, allowing Bennett Jackson to intercept the pass at the Notre Dame goal line.
Later in the quarter, Nunes set up the only first-half points for Notre Dame by throwing short into coverage to avoid up-the-middle pressure by Louis Nix. He found Irish safety Matthias Farley, who returned the ball 49 yards to the Cardinal 16.
Taylor ran the ball hard for Stanford, pounding out 102 yards on 28 carries. The Irish defense bent, but never broke and never allowed the very talented back to break free.
There is no mistake that this win belongs to the defense.
Because the Irish offense was absent most of the day.
Quarterback Everett Golson again struggled with a high-pressure defense, hitting half of his 24 attempts for 124 yards. Golson often danced around in the pocket, staring down the Stanford pass rush rather than looking for receivers.
Golson is also responsible for the first touchdown allowed in a month as well as the first opponent lead of the season.
In a strangely conceived series of plays with the Irish beginning a possession inside their own 5-yard line, head coach Brian Kelly called three straight pass plays.
On the first, Golson scrambled around and chose to run out of bounds at the three rather than throw the ball away.
On second down, Golson showed his athleticism, escaping what looked like a sure sack to throw the ball into the Stanford sideline.
On 3rd-and-13 from the three, Golson finally decided to stay in the pocket and took a blindside hit by Stanford's right defensive end Ben Gardner which dislodged the football. Cardinal linebacker Chase Thomas recovered in the end zone for the only Stanford touchdown.
Golson remained inconsistent throwing the ball, which allowed Stanford to continue to stack the box and prevent large Irish runs.
It seemed that it would not be Notre Dame's day when the Irish offense mounted their best drive of the first three quarters and netted no points.
Trailing 10-3 late in the third, the Irish offense seemed to spring to life. Beginning deep in their own territory Notre Dame began to march.
Golson found Robby Toma and Tyler Eifert for sizable gains. Cierre Wood carried twice for 20 yards; George Atkinson III ran twice for 16 yards.
Then Golson broke free of the Stanford pressure and ran 20 yards down the left sideline but was crushed by Stanford's free safety and fumbled, ending the Irish threat.
In a sign that the young Golson may still put it all together, on the next possession he shook off the three fumbles on the day and marched the Irish 52 yards in eight plays, tying the game with a 24-yard strike to Tyler Eifert.
After Stanford answered with a 16-play, 68-yard drive of their own reclaiming the lead by way of a Jordan Williamson field goal, Everett Golson was denied his opportunity to lead the comeback.
Unlike the last two times that Notre Dame needed a late score to win, Golson was not held out by the head coach.
This time Golson had led the Irish to the Stanford side of the field before sustaining a helmet-to-helmet hit on a scramble that knocked him out of the football game.
Tommy Rees was once again called upon to finish.
Rees immediately found Eifert once again for an 11-yard gain, then read blitz and threw quickly to the right sideline drawing a pass interference penalty.
The Irish were set up 1st-and-goal at the Stanford 12-yard line then ran the ball three times without making a legitimate attempt at a game-winning score.
Kyle Brindza's kick was true, and the game went to overtime.
Notre Dame got the first crack and decided to make life more interesting by first committing a false start penalty (Mike Golic's fourth, adding to a terrible game by the senior) and a sack.
Rees then hit DeVaris Daniels on the right sideline in tight coverage to dig out of the hole created by the first two overtime plays.
Then Rees found Theo Riddick beating a blitz with a "back shoulder" lob to the Stanford 7-yard line.
T.J. Jones broke open on a quick slant from the right wide position and made a fantastic catch on a poorly aimed Rees pass for the game-winning score.
The game was ugly. But that happens when a contest between Top 25 teams with dominant defenses is played in a driving rain storm.
There were plenty of drops on both sides. Five turnovers. Each team missed a field goal.
The teams were near mirror images of one another.
Fantastic defenses, offenses looking for a spark and inexperience and inconsistency at the quarterback position.
Notre Dame outgained the Cardinal, 334-272, and managed three more yards on the ground than a very physical Stanford team.
Stanford will feel cheated by the game's outcome, but neither team can say that they capitalized on all the chances that they were given.
In the end, Notre Dame made one more play.