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Notre Dame saurvives wild final minutes

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Notre Dame survives wild final minutes

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Associated Press

Posted: 5 hours ago




STANFORD, Calif. (AP) - If Notre Dame hadn't already shown it, the Fighting Irish believe they drove the point home that they are deserving of a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.


The Irish needed every last yard from Brady Quinn and Darius Walker to become eligible for their first BCS appearance in five years.

Walker ran 6 yards for the winning touchdown with 55 seconds remaining, then took a direct snap in for the 2-point conversion, and the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish all but assured themselves of playing in one the four marquee bowl games with a 38-31 victory over Stanford on Saturday night.


"We play for 60 minutes, that's just all there is to it. We've got the talent on this team, but it's more than that," said Irish receiver Jeff Samardzija, who caught two touchdown passes as part of his career day.


Quinn passed for 432 yards and three touchdowns but also threw two interceptions, and Notre Dame survived a wild final few minutes for its fifth straight victory since a 34-31 loss to No. 1 USC on Oct. 15. Walker ran for a career-high 186 yards on 35 carries.


The Irish (9-2) won seven of their final eight games under first-year coach Charlie Weis, who made a key decision to switch kickers in the fourth quarter then gave his team a major scare when he switched back to starter D.J. Fitzpatrick.


After missing an extra point and a 42-yard field goal attempt earlier in the game, Fitzpatrick missed a 29-yard field goal wide left with 2:15 to play that could have provided Notre Dame a two-score lead.


Stanford took advantage.


The Cardinal, who will miss a postseason trip in coach Walt Harris' first year, went ahead 31-30 with 1:46 left after backup quarterback T.C. Ostrander's 4-yard touchdown pass to Matt Traverso. Ostrander set up the score with a 76-yard completion to Mark Bradford.


"We went back and forth the whole game," Weis said. "But I think the great thing about this football team is, earlier this year, before I got here, I didn't know if they understood how to win games like this. ... I've had a lot of games with this kind of pressure, it's just that they haven't had it."


Travis Thomas ran 8 yards for a score with 9:44 left for the Irish, who played in front of three representatives from the Fiesta Bowl and beat Stanford for the fourth straight time - having a much tougher time than they did in a 57-7 rout of the Cardinal here in 2003 in Tyrone Willingham's return to The Farm.


Samardzija increased his school-record single-season touchdown receptions mark to 15 and finished with nine catches for a career-high 216 yards to become Notre Dame's third career 1,000-yard single-season receiver. Maurice Stovall had seven catches for 136 yards and a TD.


Notre Dame could receive big money from this victory, too - at least $14 million for playing in the BCS.


Starting next year, Notre Dame will be guaranteed a projected $1.3 million from the BCS and would only receive about $4.5 million if the Irish play in one of the top bowls.


But Stanford made a game of it in the final event at 84-year-old Stanford Stadium, which will undergo a $90 million facelift to transform the venue into a state-of-the-art facility for 2006.


The Cardinal finished 5-6 against the second-toughest schedule in the nation and missed a chance at the school's first trip to the postseason since 2001.


"There's no such thing as a moral victory, but I'm proud that our guys fought their way back," Harris said. "That's the fighting attitude we have to have. We're going to lose some very fine football players. We have talented players here but we have to have more of them. We have to create depth."


The Cardinal certainly will be left to think all winter about a 20-17 loss to UC Davis - a team making the transition from Division II to Division I-AA - in Harris' home debut.


Construction began immediately after the clock expired, with three bulldozers and three dump trucks pulling onto the field to start pulling up dirt. A ceremony was held at halftime in honor of the stadium with dozens of former players in attendance.


Quinn's 10-yard touchdown pass to Stovall with 8:43 left in the third quarter gave the Irish the lead, but Fitzpatrick missed the extra point. Quinn completed 25 of 38 passes, overcoming his early mistakes to calmly lead the Irish on the winning drive.


Ostrander replaced starter Trent Edwards, who had been forced out of the previous two games with injuries and apparently re-aggravated a problem in his throwing arm. Ostrander came in to begin Stanford's second series of the third quarter and finished 11-for-15 for 197 yards and a touchdown.


"After we scored that last touchdown, I felt so good," Ostrander said. "We worked so hard and we had a shot. It wasn't over. And now our best leaders go without having gone to a bowl game. That's really hard for the rest of us."


The Irish led 7-0 15 seconds into the game after Quinn hit Samardzija for an 80-yard TD pass.


On Notre Dame's next possession, Kevin Schimmelmann intercepted a pass by Quinn - just the sixth pick of the year by Quinn - to set up Edwards' 27-yard TD pass to Bradford that tied the game at 7 with 11:38 left in the first quarter.


Quinn connected with Samardzija again on Notre Dame's next series with a 7-yard scoring pass. The Cardinal tied it on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Edwards to Justin McCullum 8:14 before halftime.


The BCS pairings are set Dec. 3.


"Despite all the projections and everyone writing things in pen and ink, we're really in a holding pattern until all the games are played," Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said. "Notre Dame is certainly a great story this year."

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Guest SirJohn



NCAA Game Summary - Notre Dame at Stanford


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Stanford, CA (Sports Network) - Darius Walker scored on a six-yard touchdown run with 55 seconds remaining to lift sixth-ranked Notre Dame over Stanford, 38-31, at Stanford Stadium.




Brady Quinn finished 25-of-38 for 432 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for the Irish (9-2), who needed to score 18 fourth-quarter points to overcome the Cardinal. Walker ended with 186 yards rushing as Notre Dame likely secured an at-large berth to a BCS bowl by winning its regular- season finale.


"I'm not into politicking," said Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. "We're 9-2 and one of the best teams in the country, and we're going to be in one of the BCS games. I'm not worried about all those other teams because we're going to go somewhere, we're going to make one of those games proud, and we're going to be a great representative."


Jeff Samardzija added nine catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns and Maurice Stovall recorded seven receptions for 136 yards and a score for the Irish, who have averaged 40.8 points per game during their current five-game winning streak.


Backup quarterback T.C. Ostrander completed 11-of-15 passes for 197 yards with one touchdown pass for Stanford (5-6), which scored 17 points in the final quarter to force the Irish to win the game on their final offensive possession.


"Notre Dame has talent. I was hoping we could come up with a stop or turnover, but it wasn't meant to be," said Stanford head coach Walt Harris. "We have a lot of work to do to get this football program to a level that is competitive every single week."


Mark Bradford added five catches for 124 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinal, who needed a win to become bowl eligible.


With each team scoring on every fourth-quarter possession, it appeared the game would come down to who had the ball last. However, with under 2 1/2 minutes remaining it appeared the game would come down to who faulted first and that was Notre Dame.


D.J. Fitzpatrick missed a 29-yard field goal that would have given the Irish a nine-point lead with 2:15 remaining. The missed kicked was Fitzpatrick's third of the game. He earlier missed a PAT and a field goal. The decision for Fitzpatrick to take the relative chip shot was questionable as back-up kicker Carl Gioia hit a field goal from that same distance earlier in the quarter.


The miscue gave the Cardinal life. Stanford needed just 31 seconds to get down field and score a touchdown to take its first lead of the game. Ostrander, who came on for injured starter Trent Edwards in the second half, hit Matt Traverso in the end zone with a four-yard pass with 1:46 remaining. The drive was highlighted by a 76-yard completion to Mark Bradford that brought the ball down to the Irish four-yard line.


Notre Dame, however, had yet another answer. Quinn needed only 51 seconds to drive his club 80 yards. The Davey O'Brien Award finalist hit Samardzija with 30- and 17-yard passes to start the drive to bring the ball to the Cardinal 33. Later, Quinn hit Stovall with a 21-yard pass to put the ball at the Stanford nine.


Two plays later, Walker surged up the middle six yards to give Notre Dame a five-point lead, 36-31. He followed that with a run for the two-point conversion to increase the cushion to seven.


"The only thing I didn't want to do was have it come down to a field goal, so I just decided no matter what we were going to go for a touchdown," added Weis.


But with 55 seconds left and the game moving the way it was, the result hardly felt complete. However, the Irish finally stopped the Cardinal offense to secure the win.


"We need to become more physical," said Notre Dame head coach Walt Harris. "I don't like losing, but I love how our guys fought their way back."


Notre Dame, which outgained the Cardinal 663-336 in total offense, has won four straight against Stanford. The Irish also held their opponent to minus-11 yards rushing while racking up 231 yards on the ground.


The Irish started the scoring on the second play of the game when Quinn hit Samardzija for an 80-yard touchdown.


Stanford answered later in the quarter. After picking off Quinn to start on the Notre Dame 41, the Cardinal needed just four plays to get into the end zone. Edwards' 27-yard TD pass to Bradford capped the short drive with 11:38 remaining in the first quarter.


Notre Dame, however, responded on its next possession as Quinn marched his troops 72 yards on eight plays. Again, Quinn hit Samardzija, this time with a seven-yard pass in the back of the end zone, for the touchdown. The big play of the drive was a 42-yard pass play to Stovall.


Stanford sent the game tied 14-14 into halftime when Edwards hit Justin McCullum with a 38-yard touchdown pass. The three-play drive was set up when Stanford sacked Quinn on fourth-down to give the ball to its offense at its own 49-yard line.


In the third quarter, the Irish took their first possession of the half 63 yards and Quinn ended it with a nine-yard TD pass to Stovall. The PAT was missed by Fitzpatrick and Notre Dame held a 20-14 lead.


Fitzpatrick also missed a 42-yard field goal on the Irish's next drive and was later lifted in favor of Gioia, who hit a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter for a 23-14 lead.


However, T.J. Rushing returned the ensuing kickoff for 87 yards for a score and Stanford drew to within 23-21 after the successful PAT by Michael Sgroi.


Notre Dame again had an answer. This time Travis Thomas ended Notre Dame's next drive with an eight-yard TD run for a 30-21 cushion with 9:44 remaining.


Stanford, though, also refused to go away. The Cardinal put together a nine- play drive that was culminated with a Sgroi 31-yard field goal to draw within 30-24.



Edwards left the game with a right shoulder injury. He finished 12-of-20 for 150 yards with two TDs...Samardzija increased his school-record TD receptions in a season to 15. He also became the third Notre Dame receiver in history to record 1,000 yards in a season, finishing the game with 1,215 yards for the season...McCallum ended with 101 yards receiving...Brady fell short of his career-high in passing yards, 487 set against Michigan State earlier this season.




©The Morning Journal 2005

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