Call it divine intervention. Call it getting prayers answered. Call it whatever you want but there was nothing magical about Stanford's 38-20 nonconference football victory over visiting Notre Dame on Saturday.
Washington's 41-14 victory over Washington State, also Saturday, was not part of some conspiracy nor was any deal with a subterranean figure made. At best, it was coincidental.
(We'll have to remember, though, to send along congratulations to Sacred Heart Prep grad Ben Burr-Kirven for his big defensive day with the Huskies. He led the team with seven tackles and intercepted a pass.)
Stanford (9-3) won because it was better prepared and played better than the Irish (9-3) and because coach David Shaw made sure there were no distractions without suffocating his players.
Shaw always talks about giving players the chance to make plays. The Cardinal has made creating turnovers a top priority all season. The past two weeks are a clear example of why that matters.
Stanford, heading to Friday's Pac-12 Conference championship game against USC, with a berth in the Rose Bowl at stake, has seemingly been down and out at least twice this year and each time has bounced back to remain a factor in the conference race.
"We sat here 1-2 with a lot of doubt. Some of it was internal," Shaw said. "We had to ask ourselves a lot of questions. We had to change some pieces around on our team. We talked about not worrying about anything else other than playing our style of football."
The Cardinal trailed entering the fourth quarter and then everything started bouncing its way. Stanford put 21 points on the board in the first five minutes of the final period, or 3:36 if you're counting from first touchdown to third touchdown.
The point is, the offense, special teams and the defense each contributed a game-changing play in that narrow window of opportunity. And Stanford turned those into touchdowns.
"Lost a tough game in the snow at Washington State. Came back, more tough questions, difficult week of practice," Shaw said. "Came back, won the next two. Good Washington team, tough game against Cal at home. Played against a really good Notre Dame team. Might have played our best game of the year. Not perfect, but might have played our best game of the year."
Stanford was already well positioned, at Notre Dame's 21-yard line when the curtains were drawn on the final act. Quarterback K.J. Costello, who threw for four touchdowns, found Kaden Smith for a 19-yard score that put Stanford ahead for good at 24-20.
Jake Bailey's kickoff was not returned and the Irish started at their own 25. On the first play of the drive, Curtis Robinson intercepted a pass that led to Costello's 12-yard scoring toss to Dalton Schultz.
Notre Dame tried to run back Bailey's next kickoff, but Jordan Fox forced a fumble that Malik Antoine recovered, setting up Cameron Scarlett's three-yard run with 10:10 remaining to play, giving Stanford a 38-20 advantage.
The Irish even had a touchdown overturned following a review.
Stanford heads to its fourth conference title game, looking for its fourth title, since 2012. The Cardinal will make a bowl appearance for the ninth straight year, an on-going school record.
Oh yeah, Bryce Love didn't score any touchdowns but he did gain 125 yards and pulled off a 31-yard run against the Irish. He also made some big runs for first downs and field position.
Costello was 14-of-22 for 176 yards. He used seven different receivers; with JJ Arcega-Whiteside catching four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. Trent Irwin also caught a touchdown pass.
"He makes it look easy," Love said of Costello. "But the amount of things that is put on his shoulders week in, week out, how he takes control of the huddle, how he gets to the right calls and executes. On his reads, it's amazing. He's handling the ball well. We definitely need that on offense."
Harrison Phillips was credited with two sacks among his six tackles and Stanford recorded six sacks for the game. Justin Reid and Bobby Okereke each had a team-high nine tackles. Frank Buncom also intercepted a pass.