Shortly after Stanford's dramatic 38-36 victory against No. 4 Notre Dame on Saturday night, senior offensive tackle Kyle Murphy was reflecting on the win, his voice barely audible above the raucous celebration.
Then it got loud.
"I guess you can tell Conrad has gotten to the locker room," he said of Conrad Uprokina, the last player to arrive after kicking a 45-yard field goal as time expired.
Once again, Uprokina was mobbed. When the cheering subsided, he addressed the team.
"Great team win," he said. "Let's go beat USC."
The cheers were deafening.
The humble, always smiling Ukropina is a senior walk on from Pasadena, who didn't earn a scholarship until earlier this season. In much the same way as quarterback Kevin Hogan, he is cool, calm and collected.
When Notre Dame scored with 30 seconds remaining to take a 36-35 advantage in tense Stanford Stadium, Ukropina told punter Alex Robinson, "We're going to get the ball with a few seconds left, drive down and kick a field goal and win. I kind of called it."
Ukropina knew Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly would attempt to ice him with a timeout.
"I actually like it," he said. "It gives the line more time to rest and get ready."
When Ukropina trotted back on the field, he looked at holder Dallas Lloyd, the starting free safety, and said, "Shoot man, might as well just make it.' It's the same kick we've done hundreds of times in practice. Great snap, great hold and was able to kick it through the pipes."
Dead-center, as it turned out.
Students stormed the field and helped Ukropina's teammates hoist him into the air. He is now 15 of 17 in field goals, 56 of 56 in extra points, and leads the team in scoring with 101.
"We played for the Legends Trophy," said Ukropina. "Before the game, Coach Shaw was like, 'This is where legends are made.' And so lots of guys were saying, 'Legend!' It was just a great feeling. I've never been bombarded with so many people trying to take pictures."
Naturally, Ukropina was asked if it was the biggest kick of his life.
"I'd say it's up there," he said. "I hope there are more big ones and I can capitalize on them as well."
Hogan played a near flawless game. Not only did he complete 17 of 21 passes, he was perfect in the red zone, going 4-for-4 and threw four touchdowns.
"I can't say enough about him," said Murphy. "I know this was a big game for him and his family and all the adversity he has gone through. It was great to see it all come together and I couldn't be happier for him and the rest of the seniors."
No one panicked before Stanford's game-winning drive.
"It wasn't one of those things where everyone was nervous or scared that we were going to lose the game," Murphy said. "A lot of us were actually smiling at each other on the sidelines after they kicked the extra point to go ahead and were like, 'Alright, this is your opportunity to be great.' We had all the confidence in the world in Conrad. What a way to end a home career."
Martinez rallied defense
The Notre Dame offense gave Stanford fits much of the game, prompting senior inside linebacker and team captain Blake Martinez to rally his group on the sideline.
"Right before the fourth quarter, I brought everyone together and said, 'Hey, bring that next level. This is the last time we're going to be playing here together and we want to end it right.' "
Martinez collected a team-high 12 tackles, 10 solo.
As is tradition, the seniors were honored before the game. It was memorable and emotional for all of them
"We talked about it a lot during the week," Martinez said. "I brought it back to my freshman year, first walking in and you are kind of in awe. I'm looking around the stadium and thinking, 'I'm playing in this.' All of our guys played a great game and we fought until the end. I love them all."
Said Murphy, "It was hard to anticipate until you go on that last walk and hear your named called running out of the tunnel. It's surreal. I felt like it was just yesterday I was playing in my first game against San Jose State."
Added senior offensive guard Joshua Garnett, "That probably beats the Oregon game my freshman year, with everything at stake and our history in playing close games with Notre Dame. We played our hearts out against a great team and played until the final whistle. I couldn't ask for more in my last home game."
Fifth-year senior cornerback Ronnie Harris didn't play due to injury, but coached from the sideline.
"It was a roller coaster," he said. "It was hard not to out there with my boys on senior night. I had a couple texts from family members that kept my head into it. I just wanted to breathe passion when I was out there."
Fifth-year senior defensive lineman Brennan Scarlett forced fumble to negate a Notre Dame scoring drive late in second quarter. It proved to be the only turnover of the game by either team.
"I'm so proud to be on this team," said Scarlett. "It was the last regular-season game and we prepared for it like it was our first. Same mentality."
Scarlett jarred the ball loose from quarterback DeShone Kizer and Solomon Thomas recovered at the Cardinal 22.
"Our defensive back did a great job of making him hold onto the ball," Scarlett said. "I worked one move, didn't work. Worked another and the next thing you know he steps in the pocket and I'm right there. I swiped at it and got the ball."
Fifth-year senior running back Remound Wright scored on a one-yard run and one-yard pass from Hogan. He now has a team-leading 15 touchdowns this season.
"It's nice to show people that I can do more than just run for one yard," he smiled.
The win was especially satisfying given his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
"After what happened last year, pure joy," said Wright. "When I go home, I'm going to have bragging rights with all my friends."
Senior fullback Chris Harrell received his first career start in place of injured Daniel Marx.
"I've been waiting a long time to go out there and battle with my teammates," he said. "I put a lot of work in all four years. Having my family out here from Texas really meant a lot to me. There were a lot of emotions, but once the game started I was just trying to have fun out there."
Up to No. 7
Stanford climbed six places in Sunday's latest AP poll and is ranked seventh. The Cardinal (10-2) plays 24th-ranked USC (8-4) on Saturday in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The Trojans won the South Division title by beating UCLA on Saturday, 40-21. The kickoff is set for 4:45 p.m. PT and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Stanford defeated then No. 6-ranked USC in September, 41-31 in Los Angeles.
"You know they want to win the Pac-12 Championship," said Garnett. We're both going to come out firing."
Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey produced 228 all-purpose yards against Notre Dame and increased his FBS lead. The sophomore running back now has a school-record 3,035 yards and averages 252.92 per game, more than 50 yards higher than his closest competitor. McCaffrey also ranks sixth in rushing (1,640) and seventh in kickoff returns (29.7).
McCaffrey passed ex-USC running back Reggie Bush for most single-season all-purpose yards in Pac-10/12 history. McCaffrey is 216 yards shy of matching the NCAA single-season record set by Barry Sanders in 1988.
Hogan ranks fifth in passing efficiency (168.6) and Martinez ranks 14th in total tackles, averaging 10.1 per game.
Pac- 12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott met with reporters at halftime to discuss a variety of topics. Among them, are two-loss teams out of the running for one of four playoff berths?
"I don't think anyone can say what kind of record you need to have at this stage to get in," he said. "What we're concentrating on is what the caliber will be of our champion. We could have a two-loss champion with a very impressive resume. It's my sense that there's a lot of respect for the strength of schedule that we've had in the conference. If Stanford is a two-loss Pac-12 champion, I think they will be given very strong consideration."
A record 10 Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible.
"It's incredible," he said. "And I think we've reached an historic level in terms of the depth and competitiveness of our conference. "
On regulating the number of night games each school plays (seven Stanford kickoffs started at 7 p.m. PT or later during the regular season)?
"It's something we're discussing," said Scott. "Unfortunately, there's not a lot we can do in terms of the total number of night games is part of our TV contracts. But our TV partners have been open to looking at every year and making sure no one school or two schools are getting a disproportionate number. Over time, we're going to make sure there is a balance as much as possible."
On whether the FBS will stick with its current playoff format?
"I think everyone is committed to a four-team playoff for some time," Scott said.
National writers from USA Today, Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and NBCSports.com covered the game . . . Bruce Dunlevie served as honorary captain. A member of the Board of Trustees, he earned his MBA from Stanford in 1984 and is a founding partner of Benchmark Capital.
"We exploded with excitement. Everything blurred out. All the fans rushed out and we were all cheering in the middle of the field. No better feeling than that." - Senior wide receiver Michael Rector after beating Norre Dame.