STANFORD -- One, two, three more times, it came down to Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and the Stanford defensive foundation.

And no, they weren't going to break, not this time, even if Notre Dame tried a hundred times.

That's not Stanford, not any more, mostly thanks to the group of defenders playing its final home game on Saturday.

"It's been a long ride -- I've enjoyed every moment of it," NFL-bound Skov said after Stanford's 27-20 victory at Stanford Stadium.

"We've still got some games left ... But it was a great way to go out."

Stanford (now 10-2, its fourth-consecutive 10-win season) plays in the Pac-12 championship game at Arizona State next weekend, of course.

And if it wins that game, Stanford moves on to the Rose Bowl, a possible grand exit for Skov and Murphy -- linebackers who both have exhausted their eligibility -- and several redshirt juniors who also could leave for the NFL.

But on Saturday, it was wholly appropriate that Stanford needed the defense (and those defenders) to hold the opponent back three times in the last 9:11.

The results: Three-and-out, interception, interception (both by cornerback Wayne Lyons) ... and Skov and Murphy flying everywhere throughout.

Game over, home-careers over, Stanford triumphant again.

It happened because the Stanford defense wobbled a bit in the third quarter when Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees threw two touchdown passes to bring the Irish back from a 21-6 deficit.

It happened because Stanford's offense bogged down -- and QB Kevin Hogan fired his second interception of the game early in the fourth quarter.

It happened.

And it all led back to the Cardinal defense, to Skov and Murphy and the bedrock knowledge that Stanford's defense would not fold.

"It's something our coaching staff has preached since spring ball -- no matter what kind of situation we're put in, this defense is made for situational football," said safety Ed Reynolds, one of the redshirt juniors.

"Even though Hogan had a couple turnovers, we don't look at it as, 'Oh man, he's kind of put us in a bad spot.' We just go out there and we take advantage of the opportunities that are put to us.

"It was great to finish the game that way, especially with these fifth-year seniors who have put in a lot of time to build this program to what it is right now."

In many ways, the finish was all too typical of the Stanford process: build a lead with a punishing run game (Tyler Gaffney carried 33 times for 189 yards), then pull back and let the defense bring it home.

It takes a lot of confidence to play it like that -- confidence in the defense, confidence in a mindset, and confidence knowing that what Stanford has built will not be busted up in the final minutes of any game.

"We'll take our defense against any team," Hogan said.

It doesn't always look pretty; it doesn't always win popularity points.

And it takes a coach wholly convinced that this is the way Stanford should and can always do it.

You want Auburn-style drama at the end of games? Stanford would like to avoid that, thank you very much, and Stanford almost always does.

"I've been called conservative, I've been called other things, which is fine," Shaw said.

"When we get a lead, we don't mind if you know it -- it's going to be the offensive line and Tyler Gaffney and a great defense."

Again, let's go to the results: Stanford finished undefeated at home for the second consecutive season and has lost only one home game (to Oregon in 2011) in Shaw's three-season tenure.

On Saturday, as Shaw kept emphasizing, the Legends Trophy was at stake, something the Cardinal players didn't think about much until it was gone after last season's loss in South Bend.

"When there's a trophy on the line, you win the trophy, all you do is point to the trophy," Shaw said.

"There it is -- you put it in the (Stanford) Hall of Fame and you're happy about it. Actually, our Hall of Fame's going through some renovations so maybe we can just keep it in my office."

Stanford's building quite a collection of football trophies and could keep adding to it by the end of this season.

That's what Shaw calls the "tangible reward" of Stanford's achievements, and for three more times, the tangible foundation of it all was that defense.

And those players.

For more, see Tim Kawakami's Talking Points at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/timkawakami.