Irish drop Stanford to end worst season on high note

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- As soon as the final whistle blew, the Notre Dame players gathered in the end zone to salute their fans and savor a season-ending victory.

The celebration continued in the locker room with multiple renditions of the school's fight song and pictures for the departing seniors. The Fighting Irish managed to put a positive finish on the worst season ever for college football's most storied team.

Robert Hughes ran for 136 yards and the go-ahead 6-yard touchdown with 6:06 remaining to help the Irish end the season with consecutive wins for the first time in 15 years by beating Stanford 21-14 Saturday.

"When we were singing in there -- and the last two games we didn't even worry about our record, just that we were winning those games," senior safety Tom Zbikowski said. "It feels good to get that feeling back of winning games."

But the Irish (3-9) know that the season-ending wins over Duke and Stanford can't erase all that went wrong earlier this season as the team set a school record for losses in Charlie Weis' third season at the school.

"It's still 3-9. Let's not kid ourselves," Weis said. "But at least it's 3-9 with two wins at the end of the year. Now all of a sudden, you're going into the offseason winning the last game at home and then we go on the road and win our last game there. Let's start moving forward now."

This was a mistake-filled game by all parties involved, with six turnovers, five missed field goals, four plays overturned by instant replay and a number of personal foul penalties.

After Derek Belch missed his fourth field goal of the game for Stanford (3-8), a 49-yarder following an interception by Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame drove for the winning score. Hughes broke off a 44-yard run down to the Cardinal 8 and scored two plays later to make it 21-14.

Hughes, whose 45-yard run on the first play was the longest for the Irish all season, ran for 246 yards in the final two games of his freshman season after gaining just 48 in Notre Dame's first 10 games.

"He played awesome," receiver David Grimes said. "He runs hard. He's huge. I wouldn't want to tackle him."

Doug Baldwin returned the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to the Stanford 48. T.C. Ostrander, who replaced an injured Tavita Pritchard earlier in the half, drove the Cardinal down to the 7.

But Evan Moore could not hold onto a pass in the end zone on third down and Ostrander couldn't connect with Richard Sherman on fourth down in the final minute to end Stanford's comeback attempt.

"It was a great pass. I didn't make the play when it mattered," Moore said. "It's disappointing but I'll bounce back. It was right in my hands. It was a good pass and I dropped it."

Both teams missed chances to break the tie earlier in the second half. Tom Zbikowski set up the Irish early in the third quarter with a 60-yard punt return to the 31. Notre Dame lost 16 yards on three plays, but kept the ball when Kelton Lynn was called for roughing the punter. Three plays later, Brandon Walker's 44-yard field goal attempt went wide right.

Later in the third quarter, the Cardinal appeared to turn the ball over when Terrail Lambert drilled Pritchard in the helmet, causing a fumble. After a replay review, Pritchard was ruled down before the fumble and Ostrander drove the Cardinal down for the go-ahead score but Belch was wide right on a 30-yard field goal attempt. Belch's miss later in the quarter was eighth in his last 10 attempts.

"I'm just dumbfounded," Belch said. "If you told me I'd go 0-for-4 I can't think of anything more embarrassing than that. All my misses were to the right. The leg is not getting through the ball. I let the team down. I lost this game. That's unacceptable."

The overturned fumble was one of three replay reviews to go against the Irish. One erased a 29-yard diving touchdown catch by Grimes in the third quarter and the other gave Anthony Kimble a 1-yard touchdown after he was initially ruled stopped short of the goal line on a second-down carry in the first quarter. Stanford had an interception by Nick Sanchez overturned in the second quarter.

Notre Dame lost three fumbles, and was stopped on a fourth-and-1 from its own 36 in the first 19 minutes of the game but was tied at 14 at the half because the Cardinal had nearly as many miscues.

Belch missed a pair of long field goals and Pritchard threw an interception deep in Cardinal territory to set up Notre Dame's first touchdown, a 2-yard sneak by Clausen. Stanford also allowed a 44-yard screen pass to Junior Jabbie on a third-and-20 to set up Travis Thomas' 1-yard run that tied the game at 14 with 48 seconds left in the half.

Notre Dame almost added another score on what would have been a spectacular finish to the half. David Bruton intercepted Pritchard's last-play heave at the 3 and began a three-lateral return to the end zone that was called back on a personal foul on Trevor Laws.

Zbikowski ran the final 30 yards after a lateral from Darrin Walls and the only thing missing was the band on the field as it was 25 years ago when California shocked Stanford with The Play.

In between Notre Dame's two scores, Kimble ran for a pair of touchdowns.