SOUTH BEND, Ind. Stanford lost in overtime Saturday at Notre Dame when its vaunted running game was stopped just short of the goal line.
Or was it? Tailback Stepfan Taylor was ruled down inches from the end zone on fourth down even though replays showed his body did not touch the ground and his forward progress never appeared to stop.
"I didn't get a view of the last play, but Stepfan swore that he put the ball over the goal line on second effort," Cardinal coach David Shaw said after the sloppy but riveting 20-13 loss before an announced crowd of 80,975 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Taylor actually was stuffed twice by the formidable Irish defense.
After a third-down run from the 1 produced no gain, Stanford tried again. Taylor rammed into the pile and was stopped briefly but kept churning his legs. Eventually, he twisted over a mass of players and into the end zone for what appeared to be the tying touchdown.
"I didn't touch the ground," Taylor said. "You could say it was great defense, but I felt I was in."
Believing the play was over and thus the game Notre Dame began celebrating, and the crowd poured out of the stands.
But everyone was cleared off the field as the replay officials took a long look before confirming the call on the field that the play was over before Taylor's second-effort lunge.
The replay officials were from the Big East Conference; the on-field officials were from the Pacific-12 Conference.
"It was pretty apparent to me that the play was over," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "So I think that's what everybody saw."
The disputed play ended a soggy defensive struggle in which No. 7 Notre Dame tied the score on a field goal with 20 seconds remaining.
The Irish scored first in overtime on a seven-yard slant pass from backup quarterback Tommy Rees starter Everett Golson was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter to wide receiver T.J. Jones.
Stanford encountered immediate trouble when Taylor was thrown for a five-yard loss on first down. But quarterback Josh Nunes' 13-yard scramble helped salvage the possession and set up the dramatic final sequence.
It was a bitter defeat for the Cardinal (4-2), which has not scored an offensive touchdown in eight quarters (and an overtime period) away from home.
The way it happened in come-from-ahead fashion, with the disputed finish simply added to the disappointment.
"It's probably one of the hardest losses I've felt that and the Fiesta Bowl are about the same," linebacker Chase Thomas said.
Shaw was frustrated with the overtime call, but he was livid about a situation midway through the fourth quarter.
It came with the score tied and Stanford facing a crucial third-and-two at Notre Dame's 3-yard line. As Nunes handed off to Taylor, the Cardinal players heard a whistle and stopped in their tracks.
They thought an official had blown the play dead when, in fact, the whistle came from the crowd.
Taylor was thrown for a seven-yard loss, the play stood, and Stanford was forced to kick a field goal for a 13-10 advantage.
"That one hurt," Shaw said. "The whistle came from the crowd. I don't know what can be done about it. I've heard from many people that it's happened here a few times. Once again, I don't know what can be done outside of maybe stopping the play."
The game unfolded as expected, with each team trying to establish its running game and the defenses dominating.
Stanford's best offense was its defense, which produced the only touchdown of the first half. Ben Gardner sacked Golson from behind in the end zone, jarring the ball loose. Thomas pounced on it to give Stanford a 7-3 lead.