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Five Key Moments: Notre Dame’s heartbreaker loss to Stanford

On an unassuming October night in South Bend, the Stanford Cardinal shocked the college football world with a 16-14 victory over Notre Dame. With the loss, the Fighting Irish fell to 3-3 on the season as a daunting second-half schedule beckons. These were the five defining moments in Saturday’s loss.

Stanford Capitalizes on Notre Dame’s Sluggish Start

The Irish appeared to have the offense rolling coming into Saturday night. However, they ran into a three-and-out right away after receiving the opening kickoff. Notre Dame committed a false start before its first snap, and junior quarterback Drew Pyne’s pass was batted to the ground on the third down.

While Marcus Freeman’s squad came out flat, the visitors put the pedal to the metal. Junior quarterback Tanner McKee connected with three different receivers for gains of 13 yards or more, and Stanford’s quickness off the line of scrimmage was evident. In less than three-and-a-half minutes, the Cardinal cruised to the Irish two-yard line, where junior running back Casey Filkins punched in the game’s opening score. Just like that, a sellout crowd was silenced and momentum leaned firmly in Stanford’s favor.

Irish bring the thunder, Stanford weathers the storm

The Cardinal held the Irish scoreless once again on drive number two, taking possession back nearly halfway through the first quarter. Notre Dame surrendered one first down but suddenly put the heat on Stanford’s backfield. In three out of four plays, Irish rushers delivered a sack, a tackle for loss and a blocked punt to seemingly flip the game on its ear.

Notre Dame, setting up shop in opposing territory, was primed to counter Stanford’s early strike. Yellow handkerchiefs put a damper on the surge though, as junior tight end Michael Mayer had a receiving touchdown called back due to an ineligible man downfield. Then, on a 3rd and 18, Pyne gained 16 yards to set up a doable 4th and 2 situation. Notre Dame utilized freshman wideout Jayden Thomas on a jet sweep carry, but Stanford was all over it defensively, leaving the Irish off the scoreboard.

Mayer and the tailbacks ignite the Irish offense

Early in the third quarter, the Cardinal worked their way into Irish territory once again, but Notre Dame’s defense held up. Stanford was forced to kick a field goal to take a 13-0 lead and keep the margin within two possessions. That was all the Irish needed to rev up the offense. Sophomore running back Logan Diggs roamed for 26 yards to start the drive, while Mayer combined for 33 yards on a pair of catches. Sophomore tailback Audric Estime sealed a magnificent Irish drive with a 10-yard touchdown run – his fifth score of the season – and Notre Dame was right back in the fight.

Irish prevail on fourth down, Merriweather introduces himself

Stanford, still clinging to a six-point advantage, started off on a roll following Estime’s dash to the end zone. The Cardinal crossed midfield on the shoulders of Filkins but faced a key 4th and 2 at Notre Dame’s 41-yard line. Filkins got the call again on an inside run, but the Irish stopped him halfway to the line to gain. Suddenly, the crowd was involved more than ever, and the Fighting Irish were back in their element as the fourth quarter approached.

After a dazzling light show, Notre Dame’s offense opened up the final quarter at Stanford’s 41-yard line. Freshman wideout Tobias Merriweather, whom Drew Pyne had barely missed on a first-quarter deep ball, ran free on a post route. Pyne found him at the goal line, and the first year out of West Camas, Wash. secured his first career touchdown. Graduate kicker Blake Grupe booted the extra point through the uprights, and the Irish found themselves ahead 14-13.

Estime drops the ball, Stanford picks up the win

Notre Dame was back on offense midway through the fourth quarter after Stanford regained the lead on a field goal. Trailing by six, the Irish were into Cardinal territory and appeared to be gaining more ground as Audric Estime broke through the defensive line. He coughed up the ball, however, and Stanford covered it up at their own 21-yard line.

The Cardinal then went on a quasi-death march, burning four minutes, exhausting all three Irish timeouts and reaching the Notre Dame 38 before punting. Notre Dame took over at its own 10-yard line, needing to reach field goal range with 2:35 on the clock and no way to stop it. After Pyne was sacked at the Irish 28-yard line, the junior quarterback had two plays through the air to gain seven yards. He looked for Mayer on third down and sophomore wideout Lorenzo Styles on fourth, but the Cardinal secondary broke up both passes. With that exclamation point, Stanford entered victory formation and wrapped up a win in South Bend.

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu.

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