STANFORD, Calif. - Thirty seconds was all that stood between Notre Dame and a chance for the postseason playoff. The Irish had scored the go-ahead touchdown with only a half-minute left to play, and with seemingly half the crowd at sold-out Stanford Stadium cheering for the Irish, the game seemed to be theirs.
But the Cardinal, behind senior quarterback Kevin Hogan and with the aid of a key facemask penalty, used that half- minute to drive from its own 27 to the Irish 8-yard line, and Conrad Ukropina kicked a 45-yard field goal as time expired to give Stanford a 38-36 victory Saturday night.
"I talked to the team after the game," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "It's never about the last play. But Stanford made the play it needed and we didn't."
Notre Dame finished the regular season at 10-2, with the other loss, to Clemson, also by two points. "We were two plays away from an undefeated season," Kelly said.
Stanford (10-2) will play USC in the Pac-12 title game on Saturday, a few miles down the road at Levi's Stadium.
This game -- on a relatively chilly night in Northern California, when the thermometer was headed for the high 30s -- was one of big plays. Notre Dame had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by C.J. Sanders, a 73-yard TD pass from DeShone Kizer to Will Fuller and a 62-yard run by Josh Adams.
Stanford sophomore Christian McCaffrey had 94 yards rushing, 19 receiving and 109 on kickoff returns, making him the third player ever to total more than 3,000 all-purpose yards. Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State (whose son plays for Stanford) and Antonio Andrews of Western Kentucky are the others.
"Toughest part for me," Stanford coach David Shaw said after the game, "was giving the game ball to Kevin Hogan. He lost his father this past year, and so many of his family went to Notre Dame. He had a great game."
Hogan threw for four touchdowns and scrambled for 18 yards net. His teammate, McCaffrey, didn't get one of those scoring passes, but Shaw said, "Nobody can tell me there's a better player in America than Christian."
Kizer looked like one of the best when he ran 2 yards for a touchdown that tied the score, with Justin Yoon's extra point giving the Irish a 36-35 lead. It was a 15-play, 88-yard march that ate up 6:18 and left 30 seconds on the clock.
"He's a freshman," Kelly reminded, "but some of his plays on the last drive were those of a senior."
But Stanford, helped by the 15-yard penalty, got to the Irish 30-yard line on a 27-yard pass from Hogan to Devon Cajuste with 10 seconds left. McCaffrey's dive to the 28 set up Ukropina's winning field goal.
"We didn't get it done," Kelly said, "but this is a real good football team."
Obviously, so is Stanford. The Cardinal had taken a 35-29 lead on a 10-yard TD pass to Austin Hooper on the first play of the fourth quarter, capping a nine-play, 74-yard drive that came immediately after Adams' 62-yard run had given the Irish a 29-28 lead.
Hogan's other TD passes went 1 yard to Remound Wright and 6 yards to Cajuste in the first quarter and 14 yards to Michael Rector just 48 seconds before halftime for a 21-20 lead.