Sports


Meeks' intercepted pass helps Stanford conquer the Irish

 

In another wild ending to a Stanford-Notre Dame football game, Stanford stopped the Irish deep in their own territory on the final play to preserve a 17-10 nonconference victory Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Cardinal hosts Colorado at noon Saturday.

With Notre Dame facing a fourth down at the Stanford 14-yard line with 12 seconds left, the Cardinal forced quarterback DeShone Kizer to keep the football, only to be dropped by Solomon Thomas at the 12.

Kizer was able to flip the ball backward and the Irish had another lateral before the ball was whistled dead at the 14 as a lineman tried to flip it back while on the ground.

Stanford (4-2) scored 17 unanswered points and took its first lead when wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside recovered a Bryce Love fumble in the end zone with 10:38 left in the game.

Stanford stopped the Irish twice after that, including on the final drive that began with 3:44 on the clock and covered 61 yards, advancing as far as the Stanford 8 before a sack by Mike Tyler knocked the Irish back.

A strong Stanford defensive effort was enough to overcome a series of self-inflicted wounds by the Cardinal offense.

It moved the ball throughout the game, but two fumbles, an interception, and untimely holding penalties prevented the Cardinal from scoring an offensive point until the fourth quarter.

However, the defense made more than its share of big plays, beginning with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by Quenton Meeks in the third quarter, and followed by a safety when a Notre Dame shotgun snap sailed over quarterback Malik Zaire's head and out of the end zone to cut the Cardinal deficit to 10-9.

"The whole second half, I said, 'If we keep playing hard, good things will happen," said David Shaw, Stanford's Director of Football. "We believe in what we're doing. We believe in the guys that are on the field.

"It wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination. We did not play well at the quarterback position, we did not play well for stretches. We turned the ball over and missed field goals, all those things that had been nipping us in the butt the entire game, the entire season. But we kept fighting. We got a couple of plays that turned our way, but we still kept going."

Stanford not only broke a two-game losing streak, but won at Notre Dame for the first time since 2010, a 37-14 triumph in the 'Owen Marecic Game.'

Christian McCaffrey was unable to play because of injury, but sophomore Love picked up the slack with 129 yards rushing on 23 carries.

He should have been credited with the winning touchdown. On a run from the 7, Love was hit at the 3, but twisted his body toward the goal line. He appeared to have reached the ball across the goal-line as his knee landed, and the ball popped free when it hit the ground.

The officials ruled it a fumble on the field and a recovery by Arcega-Whiteside, who came up with it in a scrum in the back of the end zone. After review, the call was confirmed, preventing Love from getting the credit.

Ryan Burns engineered a winning fourth-quarter touchdown drive for the second time this season, but had his difficulties during a 10-for-19, 120-yard passing performance.

However, the defense came up big, with Dallas Lloyd also intercepting a pass; prompting the removal of Notre Dame starting quarterback Kizer until the final drive.

Thomas had a massive game, with 12 tackles, including 10 solo. He also had 1.5 sacks, and caused two illegal procedure penalties on Notre Dame linemen.

There were many good signs for Stanford, even without McCaffrey. The offensive line was solid, despite missing David Bright in the second half, the Cardinal stayed largely out of long-yardage situations, the passing game was at times in rhythm. But similar problems reminiscent of its previous two games continued to arise.

On its first drive, a 12-play, 47-yard opening possession ended with a field-goal try off the left upright, the same thing that happened twice to Conrad Ukropina against Washington State last week.

The Cardinal's second series -- 39 yards in six plays -- ended at Notre Dame's 29-yard line, on a fumble by running back Cameron Scarlett.

Around that point, Stanford could have led by two scores. Instead, Notre Dame was able to turn that takeaway into a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, on an 8-yard DeShone Kizer touchdown run with 1:57 left in the first quarter.

Stanford's third series was equally frustrating: Two first downs, and apparently another on a pass to Trenton Irwin. However, that play was wiped out by a holding penalty, creating a third-and-20, and Stanford punted moments later.

A Noor Davis sack and back-to-back pass breakups by Ben Edwards and Dallas Lloyd prevented Notre Dame from scoring a touchdown on first-and-goal. However, the Irish got a 29-yard field goal by Justin Yoon.

Stanford had moved the ball on each of its first three drives, but still faced a 10-0 second-quarter deficit.

And yet, the self-inflicted wounds continued. Stanford's next drive featured a 49-yard run by Bryce Love, which was nullified by a holding penalty.

The Cardinal punted shortly after, but got a sack from Casey Toohill to help force a Kizer quick kick. Nearing the end of the half, a Stanford scoring opportunity ended on a Burns pass that was intercepted at the Irish 18.

This was the formula that had cost Stanford in losses to Washington and Washington State: playing solidly defensively, but without the offensive support, the score grew lopsided in the second half.

But that pattern changed thanks to a big play by Meeks, returning to action after missing two games because of injury.

Meeks undercut the route of receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to intercept a Kizer pass. Lloyd sprung Meeks with a block of St. Brown, Meeks escaped the grasp of one player, and Zach Hoffpauir served a big block downfield to allow Meeks to complete a 50-yard touchdown return that cut the deficit to 10-7.

The play turned the game around, and perhaps Stanford's season as well.

— David Kiefer/Stanford Athletics

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