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 progressed 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 80,975 fans at Notre Dame Stadium.
Taylor was actually 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; the on-field officials were from the Pac-12.
"It was pretty
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 7-yard slant pass from backup quarterback Tommy Rees -- starter Everett Golson was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter -- to receiver T.J. Jones.
Stanford encountered immediate trouble when Taylor was thrown for a 5-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-2 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 7-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."
Said Taylor: "Everybody heard (the whistle). That's why everybody stopped."
The play ended what was, to that point, No. 17 Stanford's best chance for a touchdown.
The game unfolded as expected, with each team trying to establish its running game and the defenses dominating.
Nunes completed just 12 of 25 passes for 125 yards; he also threw two interceptions.
The Cardinal punted six times and failed to score a touchdown on four trips into the red zone.
Its 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 10-3 lead.
But the Irish had better success in the second half and tied the score early in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard pass from Golson to tight end Tyler Eifert.
Then came the crowd whistle, Stanford's go-ahead field goal and Notre Dame's tying drive in the final minutes.
The late-game drama was interrupted by an unnecessary-roughness penalty on Stanford defensive back Usua Amanam, who was ruled to have lowered his helmet while tackling Golson. The play sent Golson to the bench with blurred vision, but Rees didn't miss a beat as he directed the tying drive and then fired a touchdown pass in overtime.
"A few of their guys made some great catches," Gardner said. "Those were spots where we usually come up with plays, but we weren't able to today."