By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Kevin Hogan posed for pictures with some kids on the way to the locker room. Chase Thomas was one of several players to clinch a rose in their mouth. As quick as he is, Stepfan Taylor was nearly the last one into the locker room.
This was something special.
The eighth-ranked Stanford football team shut out No. 17 UCLA in the fourth quarter en route to a 27-24 victory in the Pac-12 championship game at Stanford Stadium on Friday night.
As a result, the Cardinal (11-2) advance to its first Rose Bowl in 13 years.
"We did not play great but we did play hard to give ourselves a chance," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Two years in a row we have been one game away and we lost to Oregon twice. We knew this year it was going to come down to beating Oregon up there. We had to beat Oregon to get over the hump. That was the signature game for us."
The Bruins (9-4) took a 24-17 advantage into the fourth quarter and Stanford was showing no signs it would be able to stop Johnathan Franklin, who finished with 194 rushing yards. He was held to 29 yards in the final period, but did not touch the ball in UCLA's final 13 plays.
The Cardinal defense held the Bruins on their final possession, forcing a 52-yard field goal that went wide, clinching the conference title.
"It's been a pretty good month," Hogan said. "We've been playing well and the guys around me made it easier, We knew we had to stay calm and play our style. We kept at it, pounded the ball, got field position, got the touchdown to tie it and then Jordan made a great kick."
Jordan Williamson made two nice kicks in the contest, sending a 37-yard attempt between the goal posts at the end of the first half to give the Cardinal a 17-14 edge at halftime, and then nailing a 36-yard attempt with 6:49 remaining to play that turned out to be the game winner.
"Jordan has a lot of confidence," Shaw said. "He's strong enough to kick it from 60 yards out and all we ask is that he's smooth and consistent."
Williamson kicked the game winner against the Ducks in overtime to propel Stanford into the title game.
Taylor had 78 yards to bring his career total to 4,212 rushing yards and eclipse Darrin Nelson's all-time career record (4,169, 1977-81).
Hogan, named the game's MVP, added 47 important rushing yards and scored a touchdown for Stanford. He also threw for 155 yards and a 26-yard touchdown pass to Drew Terrell, tying the game early in the fourth quarter.
"We sent the receivers vertical and I saw the corner hesitate just a little bit," Hogan said. "Drew snuck by him, got to the end zone and made a great catch."
Shaw said it was a little more complicated than that.
"He had to read the safety," said the coach. "We had four guys going deep, with Zach Ertz going across the middle. That's the value of having a guy like Ertz because the safety jumped on him and Drew got a great release. It was a great throw and a huge catch for us."
Stanford will meet Wisconsin (8-5), a 70-31 blowout winner over No. 14 Nebraska (10-3), in Pasadena on Jan. 1. Monte Ball rushed for 202 yards and the Badgers gained 538 yards on the ground. Wisconsin beat the Cardinal, 17-9, in the 2000 Rose Bowl game. Stanford hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 1972.
Wisconsin reached the Big 10 title game despite going 4-4 in conference. Both Ohio State and Penn State, which finished 1-2 in the Leaders Division, were ineligible for the postseason.
Tyrone Willingham took the Cardinal to its last Rose Bowl. Following the team's 2001 trip to the Seattle Bowl, Willingham left for Notre Dame and Stanford's success left with him. The Cardinal floundered through three coaches and seven consecutive losing seasons.
Those days seem like ancient history now that Stanford qualified for its fourth straight bowl game, and Hogan will be the third different quarterback.
"We know we can compete with anybody," Shaw said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder and part of that was to prove we're not a one-man organization. We're a team. We'll have more great players leave this year and we expect to be good again next year."
With Hogan improving to 4-0 as a starter, all against ranked opponents, the future looks as good as the present for Stanford.
"He's still growing," Shaw said. "The sky is the limit and he's making progress. He still made mistakes but when we needed him to make plays he made them. A couple of times he put us on his shoulder."
Said Thomas: "He doesn't play like a freshman. The type of leadership he brings to the huddle gives us confidence. He can extend plays with his arms and legs."
Thomas recorded two sacks, part of the nine tackles for losses Stanford recorded.
"It's been unbelievable, this ride," said Hogan. "We knew we were capable of it. It's a great journey . . . I'm happy to go to Pasadena."