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Carson: Irish, Cardinal building rivalry through thrilling contests

| Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Irish junior receiver Will Fuller catches his 73-yard touchdown reception Saturday at Stanford.Zachary Llorens | The Observer
Irish junior receiver Will Fuller catches his 73-yard touchdown reception Saturday at Stanford.

STANFORD, Calif. — That was unbelievably fun.

But it’s also par for the course as far as these two teams are concerned.

For the third time in four years, Notre Dame and Stanford played an instant classic. Unlike the defensive slogs of the 2012 and 2014 games, where the Irish pulled out late wins, it was the No. 9 Cardinal winning in a brilliant display of offense Saturday, toppling No. 6 Notre Dame with a last-second, 45-yard field goal.

“Tradition” is a word used a lot — probably too much — around campus in South Bend. Be it the band, uniform or rivalries, it’s the buzzword used to describe what makes Notre Dame football special.

And as far as rivalries are concerned, there’s certainly more traditional ones: USC and Navy are obvious, while there’s a ton of history between the Irish and Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue — even Pittsburgh and Boston College.

But amongst the litany of traditional rivals the Irish have, there’s no annual game on Notre Dame’s schedule that’s been more meaningful than this one since Brian Kelly took over as Irish head coach prior to the 2010 season.

Take a look at Kelly’s brightest moments at Notre Dame, and you’ll find wins over Stanford near the center of two of them.

The 2012 Irish win is an obvious one. With ESPN’s College GameDay in town, Notre Dame shot itself into the top five and the national championship discussion with a 20-13 overtime win over the Cardinal in a driving rainstorm, standing up the powerful Stanford offense at the goal line to win an all-time classic at Notre Dame Stadium.

Of course, when it comes to the Irish that season, you know the rest of the story.

But for Stanford, that overtime loss in South Bend was the difference between playing in the Rose Bowl and playing in the BCS National Championship, taking Notre Dame’s spot.

And a year ago, when quarterback Everett Golson found tight end Ben Koyack for the winning touchdown with just over a minute to go, it moved the Irish to 5-0, once more at the center of the national conversation, though this time for a playoff berth.

So when these two played a brilliant game Saturday at Stanford Stadium, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.

We were treated to a classic duel between two quarterbacks — Stanford senior Kevin Hogan had as many touchdowns as incompletions, four, while Irish sophomore DeShone Kizer turned in one of his best performances yet.

When it looked like the defenses were finally bearing down to win the game in the fourth quarter, Kizer stepped up. He led a drive worthy of the win, taking Notre Dame 88 yards on 15 plays, running 6:18 off the clock.

On most nights, going ahead 36-35 with 30 seconds to go would’ve been enough for the win.

But Hogan wasn’t having it. A 27-yard completion to fifth-year senior receiver Devon Cajuste got the Cardinal in field goal range, and senior kicker Conrad Ukropina, a former walk-on, drilled the 45-yard try to pull the upset.

With both Notre Dame slimming and Stanford’s very slim playoff hopes hanging in the balance, these two teams — rivals — turned in one of the best games in either school’s history.

“We’ve got to make up a name,” Kelly said last week about the annual game. “I think it’s up to you guys to come up with a name for this game so we can get in with the in-crowd, and then I think people will pay more attention to it.”

He’s right.

For years, Notre Dame and Stanford seemed like a forced rivalry at best. It was a convenient fit for the Irish, who saw the Cardinal as a chance to get to California every season. Sure, we were supposed to care because both schools have high graduation rates or fairly similar academic profiles, but at the end of the day, there wasn’t much of a rivalry there.

They even introduced a trophy, the Legends Trophy, to try and a bit of meaning to the series.

There’s only one true way to build a strong rivalry: through competitive, meaningful games on the field. And these two have certainly done that as of late.

A few days ago, Notre Dame’s rivalry trophy collection stood complete. But today, the Legends Trophy sits in control of Stanford.

You think that’s not going to irk Kelly until Oct. 15, 2016, when these teams renew this rivalry?

The much-maligned (at least in South Bend) Stanford band plays Free’s “All Right Now” as its de facto fight song throughout the game.

But those three words may be an understatement for how good this rivalry has become.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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