In a game of high hopes and high drama, it was the Notre Dame defense that once again stood strong in the end, as it has done all season for the Irish.
With the Irish clinging to a 20-13 overtime lead and the hopes of most everyone in Notre Dame Stadium on their backs, the defense came up huge in the biggest of moments, stuffing Stanford on fourth down and preserving an amazing come-from-behind win.
Stanford began the series with the ball 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Running back Stepfan Taylor, who finished the day with 102 yards on the ground, carried the ball on first and was held to a one-yard gain.
On second down he gained two more and he was stuffed for no gain on third down. The stage was set for one of the most dramatic plays of the college football season and one that will add itself to Notre Dame lore, especially if this team moves on to bigger and better things.
On 4th-and-goal, Taylor took the ball and was met just before the goal line by senior linebacker Carlo Calabrese. Taylor remained on top of a pile of players and struggled to reach the goal line.
The referees on the field, led by the side judge who had the best view, ruled he had not and the play was held up by video replay, giving the Irish their most important win of the season thus far.
With the win they snapped a three-game losing streak against Stanford.
It was one of those epic dramatic victories that was capped off by a goal-line stand that will surely be the talk of the nation. It was the fourth consecutive game that the Irish defense refused to surrender a touchdown. The Cardinal only reached the end zone once on a second-quarter fumble recovery.
On a rainy, sloppy day in South Bend, Ind., neither quarterback played especially well. Cardinal quarterback Josh Nunes completed 12 of 25 passes for 125 yards and two interceptions.
Everett Golson posted nearly identical numbers and was 12-of-24 for just 141 yards. He committed two costly fumbles, one which gave Stanford a touchdown and the other that killed a long Irish drive in Cardinal territory.
He was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter after taking a shot to the head and was relieved by Tommy Rees.
Rees has developed a reputation this season for closing games, having relieved Golson several times this season in big spots. But unlike those times, he was in today's game for injury and not for the situation.
Rees completed the game-tying field-goal drive began by Golson near the end of regulation and then led the Irish to an overtime opening seven-yard touchdown pass to TJ Jones that would prove the difference in the game.
It was a stunning and dramatic ending and it surely has Irish fans smiling as they can now eagerly anticipate tomorrow's release of the first BCS rankings of the season.
With the victory, their third over a Top 25 team, the Irish are a virtual lock for one of the top five spots, which are automatic BCS berths at the end of the season.
With each victory, the number of believers grows. Notre Dame answered a lot of critics today, winning a close game after trailing for much of it and with a dramatic goal-line stand on the final play.
They didn't get swallowed up by the hoopla or hype surrounding one of the biggest games in their recent history.
The Irish host the Cougars of Brigham Young University Saturday in South Bend, and after that travel to Norman for an Oct. 27 matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners.
The last thing the Irish can do is look by BYU, which is especially dangerous after an emotional and dramatic win and with a looming road trip to Oklahoma on the horizon.
But that's all in the future. At least for tonight the Irish have given their fans and the nation another reason to believe. Nothing matters but how you finish, but right now this team is certainly on the right track.
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