Notre Dame defense stuffs Stanford 20-13
QB Rees comes late to rescue of offense and defense does rest with goal-line stand in OT
Linebacker Manti Te'o celebrates after Notre Dame defeated Stanford in overtime. (Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE / October 13, 2012)
The Irish's stirring 20-13 overtime victory over Stanford loosed a bounding mob of chest bumps and twirling helmets, but first replay had to assure it happened. So everyone was jerked back to the sideline, like a 100-body cannonball on a spring coil, exploding again after confirmation of a victory that created some echoes, if it didn't wake them.
Fans spilled over the walls to swarm mud-splattered players, everybody a mess in a season that is anything but. Halfway through, No. 7 Notre Dame remains unbeaten at 6-0, winning again with a backup quarterback and its defense making a square-jawed goal-line denial where Stanford had trampled them for three years running, literally.
Curtains of rain obscured things at times Saturday. The sightline to a Bowl Championship Series berth became crystal clear.
"Guys were talking about that when we were 4-0 and won some close games — it's just a feeling that we can't lose," Irish tight end Tyler Eifert said. "We're going to find a way, we're going to will ourselves to win. With that kind of confidence, and that mindset, that's a great thing."
It wasn't that Notre Dame won a game it seemed unlikely to win; No. 17 Stanford (4-2) is formidable but flawed. It was that Notre Dame won a game that turned BCS aspirations into a disappointment if this ends any other way.
Win the games they're supposed to win, and the Irish will be in.
"They have not been on the other end of it, where they had to come back and win a football game, so there's a high level of confidence that our football team can carry on to the next game and the next game," Irish coach Brian Kelly said.
"Six weeks left with this group, I think they leave here knowing that they can win if they stick with the plan."
The Irish are good about finding ways to win. This time, down 13-10 with six minutes left, it was Tommy Rees relieving Everett Golson after a helmet-to-helmet collision and finishing a game-tying drive in the last minute of regulation, then throwing a go-ahead 7-yard touchdown strike to TJ Jones in the extra period.
Then came the feral defense, denying an elephant stampede of a Stanford run game from half a yard out on back-to-back snaps to end it. The dramatic stop extended the Irish's touchdown-free streak to 16 quarters and counting.
"The goal line, the game on the line, that's where it's at," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We have a lot of big-time players on our defense and they stepped up big-time."
There were three lost fumbles, one of which Stanford recovered for a score. There was another bipolar performance from Golson, who had two fumbles but also shimmering moments like a 24-yard touchdown pass to Eifert. The defense bent, even in overtime, but would not be busted.
The imperfect path doesn't matter, if it takes you where you want to go.
"The sky's the limit," tackle Zack Martin said, and the Irish certainly can see it from here.