Cardinal stump Irish, 40-37
By BRIAN KESSLER
PALO ALTO, Calif.
Notre Dame had absolutely nothing to play for Saturday and it showed in the first 88 seconds.
With its bowl hopes dashed and a winning record out of the question, Notre Dame watched Stanford jump to a 14-point lead with a 62-yard bomb to Troy Walters and a 37-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Aaron Focht in the opening minute and a half.
It was the culmination of a season in which everything seemed to go wrong.
But the Irish put the fight back in their name and played their way back into the game with the Rose Bowl bound Cardinal, only to watch in disappointment as Mike Biselli's fourth field goal of the game — a 22 yarder — sailed through the uprights as time expired.
"I'm proud of this football team," head coach Bob Davie said following the loss. "To be down 17-0 with the circumstances the way they were and come back shows a tremendous amount of character and that's something we can build on."
The Irish will have to do a lot of building in the offseason after a 5-7 season. It was Notre Dame's first losing season since 1986 and its first seven-loss season since 1963.
The Cardinal were able to throw against the Irish all evening. Todd Husak completed 24-of-34 throws for 334 yards and two touchdowns, including a 38 yarder to Walters.
Walters set the Pac-10 record with 1,456 receiving yards this season, breaking the mark of 1,373 set by USC's Johnny Morton in 1993.
Stanford backup Joe Borchard was 4-for-4 for 51 yards and also rushed for a score.
The Irish were unable to get pressure on the Cardinal quarterbacks, but that was just one of the problems.
"When you can't cover them, it's hard," Davie said.
Walters had eight catches for 183 yards and DeRonnie Pitts grabbed six for 85 yards.
Still the Irish were able to make a game of it. Tony Fisher had a big day, rushing and receiving. He scored on touchdown runs of one and nine yards and caught a 42-yard pass for a third score.
"Basically once I knew I had the linebacker on me, I knew Jarious was going to throw it to me," Fisher said of the touchdown catch. "Fortunately, I was wide open. No one was covering me and I had an open way to the touchdown."
The sophomore tailback finished with 107 yards rushing on 19 carries and also had a team high three receptions for 68 yards.
Julius Jones had 66 yards on the ground on nine carries and his 24-yard touchdown run gave the Irish a 29-23 lead late in the third quarter. Notre Dame threatened to put more points on the board on its next offensive series, but Jim Sanson's 42-yard field goal was blocked.
"He kicked the ball this high [about three feet off the ground]," Davie said. "But the two plays before that we ran the boot and the tight end Jabari Halloway was wide open in the flat, no one was within 15 yards of him. We come back on third down and overthrow the curl that's wide open. So we shouldn't even have had to kick the field goal."
Stanford took a 37-29 lead midway through fourth quarter after Walters' second touchdown of the game and Burchard's two-yard scoring run.
With time running out on the Irish, Rocky Boiman recovered a fumble and Notre Dame was back in business.
"I just saw it there," Boiman said. "We were happy to get that fumble recovery. It was big for the team. It helped change the game, but unfortunately we couldn't get a little bit more."
Seven plays and 32 yards later, Halloway knelt in the end zone after a five-yard touchdown reception. Joey Getherall scored the two-point conversion on a reverse, but Stanford prevailed after a 1:32 drive that ended with Biselli's game winner.
"I'm encouraged," Davie said. "Down here at the end of the game, down eight and Stanford has the ball, we comeback and we have a chance to win. So there's a lot of positive things."
Arnaz Battle split time with Jarious Jackson at quarterback.
Jackson completed 9-of-19 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns in his final game in a Notre Dame uniform. He finished the season with school records in completions (184), attempts (316) and yards passing (2,753).
Battle rushed the ball six times for 21 yards and was 2-for-3 passing for 35 yards.
"I felt comfortable and was just trying to go out there have fun and try to make something happen," he said. "We kind of struggled. I went out there and got the offense going. We were able to score and then Jarious came back in and made some big plays and did a good job."
"I thought he played pretty well," Davie said. "He led us on a touchdown drive and did some good things. That's going to be the huge point for this football team next year."
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, November 30, 1999