Irish hold off Stanford upset bid, become BCS eligible

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- If Notre Dame hadn't already shown it, the Fighting Irish believe they drove the point home that they are deserving of a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

The Irish needed every last yard from Brady Quinn and Darius Walker to become eligible for their first BCS appearance in five years.

Walker ran 6 yards for the winning touchdown with 55 seconds remaining and then took a direct snap in for the two-point conversion as the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish all but assured themselves of playing in one the four marquee bowl games with a 38-31 victory over Stanford on Saturday night.

"We play for 60 minutes, that's just all there is to it. We've got the talent on this team, but it's more than that," said Irish receiver Jeff Samardzija, who caught two touchdown passes as part of his career day.

Quinn passed for 432 yards and three touchdowns but also threw two interceptions, and Notre Dame survived a wild final few minutes for its fifth straight victory since a 34-31 loss to No. 1 USC on Oct. 15. Walker ran for a career-high 186 yards on 37 carries.

The Irish (9-2) won seven of their final eight games under first-year coach Charlie Weis, who made a key decision to switch kickers in the fourth quarter and then gave his team a major scare when he switched back to starter D.J. Fitzpatrick.

After missing an extra point and a 42-yard field-goal attempt earlier in the game, Fitzpatrick missed a 29-yard field goal wide left with 2:15 to play that could have provided Notre Dame a two-score lead.

Stanford took advantage.

The Cardinal, who will miss a postseason trip in coach Walt Harris' first year, went ahead 31-30 with 1:46 left after backup quarterback T.C. Ostrander's 4-yard touchdown pass to Matt Traverso. Ostrander set up the score with a 76-yard completion to Mark Bradford.

"We went back and forth the whole game," Weis said. "But I think the great thing about this football team is, earlier this year, before I got here, I didn't know if they understood how to win games like this. ... I've had a lot of games with this kind of pressure, it's just that they haven't had it."

Travis Thomas ran 8 yards for a score with 9:44 left for the Irish, who played in front of three representatives from the Fiesta Bowl and beat Stanford for the fourth straight time -- having a much tougher time than they did in a 57-7 rout of the Cardinal here in
2003 in Tyrone Willingham's return to The Farm.

Samardzija increased his school-record single-season touchdown receptions mark to 15 and finished with nine catches for a career-high 216 yards to become Notre Dame's third career 1,000-yard single-season receiver. Maurice Stovall had seven catches for 136 yards and a TD.

Notre Dame could receive big money from this victory, too -- at least $14 million for playing in the BCS.

Starting next year, Notre Dame will be guaranteed a projected $1.3 million from the BCS and would only receive about $4.5 million if the Irish play in one of the top bowls.

But Stanford made a game of it in the final event at 84-year-old Stanford Stadium, which will undergo a $90 million facelift to transform the venue into a state-of-the-art facility for 2006.

The Cardinal finished 5-6 against the second-toughest schedule in the nation and missed a chance at the school's first trip to the postseason since 2001.

"There's no such thing as a moral victory, but I'm proud that our guys fought their way back," Harris said. "That's the fighting attitude we have to have. We're going to lose some very fine football players. We have talented players here but we have to have more of them. We have to create depth."

The Cardinal will certainly be left to think all winter about a 20-17 loss to UC Davis -- a team making the transition from Division II to Division I-AA -- in Harris' home debut.

Construction began immediately after the clock expired, with three bulldozers and three dump trucks pulling onto the field to start pulling up dirt. A ceremony was held at halftime in honor of the stadium with dozens of former players in attendance.

Quinn's 10-yard touchdown pass to Stovall with 8:43 left in the third quarter gave the Irish the lead, but Fitzpatrick missed the extra point. Quinn completed 25-of-38 passes, overcoming his early mistakes and calmly leading the Irish on the winning drive.

Ostrander replaced starter Trent Edwards, who had been forced out of the previous two games with injuries and apparently re-aggravated a problem in his throwing arm. Ostrander came in to begin Stanford's second series of the third quarter and finished
11-for-15 for 197 yards and a touchdown.

"After we scored that last touchdown, I felt so good," Ostrander said. "We worked so hard and we had a shot. It wasn't over. And now our best leaders go without having gone to a bowl game. That's really hard for the rest of us."

The Irish led 7-0 15 seconds into the game after Quinn hit Samardzija for an 80-yard TD pass.

On Notre Dame's next possession, Kevin Schimmelmann intercepted a pass by Quinn -- just the sixth pick of the year by Quinn -- to set up Edwards' 27-yard TD pass to Bradford that tied the game at 7 with 11:38 left in the first quarter.

Quinn connected with Samardzija again on Notre Dame's next series with a 7-yard scoring pass. The Cardinal tied it on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Edwards to Justin McCullum 8:14 before halftime.

The BCS pairings are set Dec. 3.

"Despite all the projections and everyone writing things in pen and ink, we're really in a holding pattern until all the games are played," Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said. "Notre Dame is certainly a great story this year."

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