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 goal line 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.
Taylor kept reaching and turning with bodies underneath him, and 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 it. That he got over the goal line on the second effort. The officials looked at it and 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 7-point lead.
Stanford (4-2) responded by driving to a first-and-goal at the 4.
Behind its big, strong offensive line, Taylor ran for 1 on first down, 2 on second, and inches 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.
It had been a few years since that was the case. Stanford had won three straight in the series, 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 after the sophomore took a helmet to the head during Notre Dame’s tying field goal drive late in the fourth.
In the overtime, Rees lofted 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.
Then the Fighting Irish defense, which has not given up a touchdown in four straight games, made it stand. Almost half the field was covered with Notre Dame fans as rain poured down during the postgame celebration. They didn’t seem to mind.
Toss another victory into Notre Dame lore.
Jordan Williamson’s 27-yard field goal with 6:12 put the Cardinal up, 13-10. The Fighting Irish drove into Cardinal territory when Golson absorbed the helmet hit from Usua Amanam that was flagged for 15 yards.
Golson came out looking shaken and Rees came in. He completed an 11-yard pass to Tyler Eifert, and then on third and 4 from the 28 Eifert drew a pass interference call on Terrence Brown that gave the Irish a first down at the 13.
The Irish couldn’t punch it in and Kyle Brindza kicked a 22-yard field goal with 20 seconds left to tie it at 13.
Two of the nation’s best defenses figured to dictate the game on a gray, rainy day and they didn’t disappoint.
Notre Dame defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt was in the Stanford backfield all day and Manti Te'o was all over Stanford ball carriers.
On the other side, Shayne Skov and Ben Gardner gave Golson and the Irish very little room to operate.
Golson alternated between scary and spectacular all day, completing 12 of 24 for 141 yards and a touchdown. He also lost two key fumbles — one that Stanford’s Chase Thomas recovered in the end zone in the second quarter and the other gave the Cardinal the ball deep into Stanford territory.