Who wrote this script any way?
Fourth-ranked Notre Dame outgained and outplayed host No. 13 Stanford for most of Saturday's contest, including the fourth quarter, getting three big plays, three field goals and a touchdown with 30 seconds remaining to play to seemingly rally to victory.
Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan did the impossible, though, driving Stanford to within field-goal range in four quick plays.
"It's the best," Hogan said. "I couldn't have pictured it going any better. Just having the opportunity to go down and finish the game with the ball in our hands, it was one of those games where it seemed like whoever had the ball last was going to win. And Conrad's got a leg, which we knew, and he nailed it."
A couple of timeouts later, Conrad Ukropina delivered a picture- perfect 45-yard field goal, out of the hold of former quarterback turned safety Dallas Lloyd, giving the Cardinal an improbable 38-36 victory while sending Stanford fans into bedlam and sending the Irish home without much hope of playing for a national championship.
"I ran out there, looked at Dallas and said, 'I mean, shoot, man, might as well just make it.' It's the same kick we have done hundreds of times in practice," Ukropina said. "I just went out there and great snap, great hold, and was able to kick it through the pipes. Great feeling . . . Great feeling."
Lloyd and Ukropina shook hands before Notre Dame took its final timeout. They were smiling as though it was no big deal.
"They scored late at the end. Great. But we had time," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I challenge anybody to find a better two-minute quarterback in the nation than what Kevin has done this year. At the end of halves and at the end of the game. It's been outstanding."
The Cardinal (10-2) enters this Saturday's Pac-12 Championship Game against USC on a high note and gives the selection committee something new to ponder. Stanford's thrilling victory over Notre Dame stands as yet another display of pure determination by Hogan and his teammates. Stanford is ranked No. 7 in the Football Writers/National Football Foundation Super 16 poll this week while Notre Dame dropped from No. 3 to 10.
How else can you explain it? The Irish returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score, had a 73-yard touchdown pass and a 62-yard scoring run. Any one of those is usually difficult to overcome.
Hints were there all along though. Three field goals instead of three touchdowns; Solomon Thomas' fumble recovery, the lone turnover of the night, forced by Brannan Scarlett; the critical Irish penalties that gave Stanford a handful of extra first downs.
Notre Dame took the lead after a 15-play, 88-yard drive that consumed 6 minutes, 18 seconds. The Irish left a bit too much time on the clock.
"Growing up as a fan of Notre Dame, going to all their games, to be able to have my last home game here against them was a dream come true and fortunate enough to play a good game and our team came out on top," Hogan said.
Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 94 yards on the night -- ending his streak of nine straight games with 100 yards or more -- returned the ensuing kickoff 26 yards. Hogan managed to pick up a yard and a Notre Dame defender grabbed his facemask, giving Stanford a first down on its own 43.
Hogan threw an incomplete pass and then, somehow, found Devon Cajuste open over the middle for a big 27-yard completion.
"I just made the play, just like practice," Cajuste said. "It was just extremely exciting, just the fact that it happened. I'm still smiling from it."
The Irish had eight players in coverage, but thanks to Hogan's running ability, not all of them could concentrate on the receivers.
"Devon came to me at the start of last week, and said, 'you know what coach, I feel fast again. I feel like me again. I feel like I'm really, really back now.' And it showed in practice. He's been running fast," Shaw said.
McCaffrey's two-yard run set up Ukropina's winning field goal. Cut to students pouring onto the field in celebration.
"The confidence that they have in him and what they have seen him do, you're talking about a walk-on kicker that came in as a young guy, earned his stripes, learned, grew, earned a scholarship and he's our guy now," Shaw said. "He's done a phenomenal job and he's become one of the best kickers in the nation."
Notre Dame outgained Stanford, 94-66, in the fourth quarter, and 533-422 for the game. The Irish ran 21 plays in the final period and kept it away from the Cardinal for 8:45.
Hogan completed 17 of his 21 passing attempts for 269 yards and four touchdowns of one yard to Remound Wright, six yards to Cajuste, 14 yards to Michael Rector and 10 yards to Austin Hooper.
McCaffrey had 228 all-purpose yards, exceeding 3,000 this year and moving him into third on the all-time FBS season list.
Wright also rushed for a touchdown, hurdling over Notre Dame's beefy defensive line and breaking the invisible barrier for the score.
Blake Martinez recorded 12 tackles, 10 of them solo. The Cardinal defense never recorded a sack and had two tackles for a loss.
"My parents ran on," Martinez said. "I was taking pictures with them and all the fans. It was just a great moment to have for your last time on the field. I took a bunch of pictures with little kids. They were saying, 'hey, good job, I was watching you all season.' And it was a great moment to kind of cherish that."
The game, which featured eight lead changes, was played before a sellout crowd of 50,242.
"The ref blew the game dead, so we just ran on the field," Hogan said. "I'm at a loss for words. For our fans to be able to come out on the field and celebrate with us at the end of the game was awesome."