A trio of fourth quarter touchdowns turned an already good night into a great one for Stanford, as the No. 21 Cardinal blew past No. 8 Notre Dame 38-20 to claim Stanford’s third straight win and seventh in the last nine meetings of private school powers.
Meanwhile in Seattle, No. 17 Washington’s blowout of No. 13 Washington State handed Stanford its fourth Pac-12 North championship and sent the Cardinal into a Pac-12 Championship rematch with No. 11 USC on Friday in Santa Clara.
Stanford entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-17, but a 19-yard pass from K.J. Costello to Kaden Smith handed the Cardinal the lead with 13:46 to play. Curtis Robinson intercepted Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush inside Irish territory on the first play of the ensuing possession, and Costello’s fourth touchdown pass, this one a 12-yarder to Dalton Schultz gave Stanford control of the game with 12:21 remaining.
Disaster struck Notre Dame again after C.J. Sanders fumbled the ensuing kickoff at his own 18-yard line, and Jordan Scarlett put the game away for Stanford with a 3-yard touchdown plunge with 10:10 remaining.
A Wimbush interception inside the Stanford end zone ended any hopes of a last-gasp comeback.
Notre Dame opened the scoring with an 83-yard snatch-and-dash connection from Wimbush to Kevin Stepherson, handing the Irish a 7-0 lead at the 3:40 mark of the first quarter. Stanford pulled even on the next drive, knifing 72 yards in five plays, the last 29 on a Trenton Irwin pass from Costello.
The Cardinal forced a three-and-out on Notre Dame’s next possession, then took the lead with a 6-play, 55-yard march, mostly on Costello’s arm. He hit J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to give Stanford a 14-7 lead with 11:29 left in the first half.
Notre Dame cut into the deficit with a 38-yard Justin Yoon field goal with 2:36 left in the half. The Irish grabbed their second lead of the night with another long throw, this one a 75-yard toss from Wimbush to Equanimeous St. Brown. After Stanford tied the game with a 24-yard Jet Toner field goal, Yoon nudged Notre Dame back in front for its final lead of the night with a 38-yard boot at the 1:23 mark of the third quarter.
Wimbush finished the night hitting hitting 11-of-27 passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, with two throws accounting for 158 yards and the other 25 going for 91.
Though his numbers did not pop off the page, Bryce Love was perhaps Stanford’s MVP with a game-high 20 carries for 125 yards. Playing on a high ankle sprain, Love’s 20 totes were sprinkled in between hobbles to and from the Stanford sideline; Love would carry the ball, wait for the pain to subside and then run back on the field to carry the ball again and again and again.
While Stanford (9-3) will prepare for its rematch with the Trojans — USC won the first meeting, 42-24 Sept. 9 in Los Angeles — Notre Dame (9-3) will look to hold on its New Year’s Six bowl positioning.