Stanford, Calif. — Dealing with emotions on senior day can be difficult enough. When it comes against the team you cheered for as a kid alongside your late father, it could easily be overbearing.
Not for Kevin Hogan.
Hogan threw four touchdown passes and drove the 13th-ranked Cardinal to the winning 45-yard field goal by Conrad Ukropina on the last play of a 38-36 victory over No. 4 Notre Dame in a playoff elimination game Saturday night.
“This was the best,” Hogan said. “I couldn’t have pictured it going any better, having the opportunity to go down and finish the game with the ball in our hands. It seemed like whoever had the ball last would win.”
Stanford did just that. Hogan threw for 269 yards and calmly led the winning drive in the final 30 seconds for the Cardinal (10-2, No. 9 CFP), who kept their slim playoff hopes alive with the win. Stanford needs to beat Southern California in the Pac-12 championship game next week and then get help in the other title games to make the four-team playoff.
Hogan was presented with the game ball by coach David Shaw in an emotional locker room scene as both remembered Hogan’s father Jerry, who died of colon cancer last December
“Kevin did a great job of keeping all that at bay and just playing football,” Shaw said. “But at the end of the day, he was going to be emotional. I was emotional. He didn’t play one of his best games against these guys last year and he played one of his best games tonight. I can’t say how proud I am of him.”
DeShone Kizer had given the Irish (10-2, No. 6 CFP) a one-point lead on his 2-yard run with 30 seconds left only to see Hogan drive Stanford to the winning score.
“We truly thought that we were one of the best teams in the country,” Kizer said. “The goal was to make it in the playoffs. We know that that opportunity has kind of fallen away.”
The drive was aided by a facemask penalty on Isaac Rochell on the first play and then Hogan connected on a 27-yard pass to Devon Cajuste to get Stanford in field goal range. After a short run by Christian McCaffrey, Ukropina came on and drilled the field goal setting off a wild celebration with the fans rushing the field.
Ukropina said he had predicted to punter Alex Robinson that the Irish would score and give Stanford 30 seconds to drive for the win. He proved prophetic as well as clutch.
“We got the ball, drove down and it was almost like it was meant to be,” he said.
McCaffrey gained 228 all-purpose yards to become the third FBS player top 3,000 in a season, but was held to 94 on the ground to have a nine-game streak of 100-yard games snapped.
Kizer threw for 234 yards and ran for 128 more for the Irish. Josh Adams added 168 on the ground but it wasn’t enough. Notre Dame now awaits its bowl bid, but the Irish’s hopes of making the playoff are gone after being dealt their second loss.
“We’re two plays away from being undefeated and being the number one team in the country,” coach Brian Kelly said. “One play at Clemson and one play here at Stanford.”
The game was a contrast in styles with Notre Dame thriving on big-play scores and Stanford moving the ball efficiently down the field and dominating on both sides of the ball in the red zone.
The Irish were held to field goals on their first three trips inside the 20, costing them a chance to build a substantial lead. Kizer also lost a fumble in field-goal range in the closing seconds of the first half.
Notre Dame was actually more potent from farther away from the end zone, getting three touchdowns of more than 60 yards in the game: a 93-yard kickoff return by C.J. Sanders, a 73-yard pass from Kizer to Will Fuller and a 62-yard run by Adams.
The Cardinal turned all five of their red zone trips into touchdowns with Hogan throwing for four and Remound Wright running in one. Hogan’s 10-yard pass to Austin Hooper on the opening play of the fourth quarter put Stanford up 35-29.
The defenses then combined to force four straight punts before the two late scoring drives provided the seventh and eighth lead changes of the game.