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Irish devastated by last-second field goal

Stanford turns their heads to the Pac-12 championship game and a date with rival USC....

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Conrad Ukropina likely woke up as public enemy No. 1 in South Bend on Sunday morning — luckily, he’s about 2,200 miles away. The moment Ukropina’s 45-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, Cardinal students and fans flooded the field, players of the Fighting Irish dropped to their knees, and Notre Dame’s playoff hopes were sent reeling.

Until that kick, Notre Dame put the ball, and its ambitions, in the hands of quarterback DeShone Kizer. He had authored an impressive performance. Notre Dame gained 533 yards in the game due to his efforts, and scored three touchdowns in the process. Three long touchdowns.

Notre Dame’s defense did something several other programs have not been able to during the game — contain Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. He rushed for just 94 yards in the game, and didn’t manage any of his weekly highlight reel long kick or punt returns, either.

Trailing 35-29, Kizer marched the Fighting Irish down the field until they reached a fourth-and-1 scenario in the final minute. Kizer shoveled the ball to running back Josh Adams, who scampered for a first down. Just one play later, Kizer took seemingly took control of the game, running in what at the time many believed to be the game-winning touchdown. There were just 30 seconds remaining on the clock.

The Cardinal got the ball back, and a face-mask penalty injected life into their offense. After forcing an incompletion, Notre Dame’s secondary all but fell apart — Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan managed to thread a 27-yard pass to receiver Devon Cajuste, moving the Cardinal to Notre Dame’s 30-yard line.

“There’s no better way to finish your career than a completion to set up the winning (score),” Hogan said.

For Hogan, the game was personal. His late father, Jerry, attended and played football for Notre Dame, as did several of his family members. Growing up, Hogan was an avid fan and cheered for the program. After the game, Hogan was awarded the game ball for his efforts. Making his final start as a senior at home, it was his 34th victory — a school record.

“Our big thing that we talked about earlier today was belief,” Cardinal coach David Shaw said. “Belief in the work we put in, belief in our preparation, belief in our struggles — belief that our struggles helped us to be a better team.”

That belief, and those 45 yards, helped to propel then-No.13 Stanford to its current updated ranking of No.7 as of this morning. Stanford will need help for a birth into the semifinals of the college football playoff, their efforts in making that happen will have to come in defeating conference rival USC at the Pac-12 championship game this weekend at Levi’s Stadium.