STANFORD, Calif. — Tangible evidence of a job well done.
It’s a phrase Stanford coach David Shaw often preaches to motivate his players, referring to what they can show they’ve accomplished — not what others might say they have or haven’t. At the end of another grueling regular season, Shaw and his team has plenty of proof for success.
Now they hope for a little more.
Wayne Lyons intercepted two passes by Tommy Rees late in the fourth quarter, and No. 8 Stanford held off No. 25 Notre Dame 27-20 on Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Cardinal (10-2) captured the Legends Trophy — the kind of evidence Shaw covets — given to the winner of the series. And they’ll get a chance for an even bigger piece of hardware when they face No. 13 Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game next.
“The first team meeting on Monday I showed them a picture of the trophy,” Shaw said. “The freshmen hadn’t seen it. It was here for three years, and it was gone. I wanted to make sure they looked at it. We talk about it, people can jump on and off our bandwagon, tell us they love us and tell us they hate us, but when there’s a trophy on the line, all you do is point to the trophy. There’s no defense, there’s nothing we can say or they can say about us. You win a game and you get a trophy.”
Stanford will go for its second straight Pac-12 title trophy and Rose Bowl berth now. If Arizona State beats rival Arizona late Saturday night, the league championship will be held in Tempe, Ariz. Otherwise it will be at Stanford, which handed the Sun Devils their only league loss this season.
The final tuneup for that game turned out to be another tough test.
The Cardinal overcame two interceptions from Kevin Hogan and a penalty that wiped away another touchdown to win their 16th consecutive home game. Tyler Gaffney ran for 189 yards and a touchdown to cap his sensational Senior Day, and Hogan threw for 158 yards and TD pass to Devon Cajuste to help the Cardinal take a 21-6 lead in the third quarter.
Rees nearly rallied the Fighting Irish (8-4) by throwing two touchdown passes later in the quarter. But interceptions on Notre Dame’s final two drives dashed Notre Dame’s come back.
“We took it to them and we were fortunate to come out on top,” Gaffney said.
Gaffney plowed through the Irish line from a yard out to give the Cardinal a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. The bunched formation was similar to the one Notre Dame stopped Stepfan Taylor on last year to win in overtime, a stinging loss that the Cardinal regrouped from to roll off eight straight victories, including the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl.
Backup Anthony Wilkerson capped the opening drive of the second half in similar fashion. He ran for a 20-yard TD run on third-and-9 to put Stanford ahead 21-6.
Notre Dame drove deep in Cardinal territory on its first and final drives of the first half before settling for field goals each time. With Stanford seemingly ready to turn the game into a rout, Rees threw touchdown passes to TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels late in the third quarter before missing his targets late.
“Not good enough obviously. Proud of the guys and my teammates and how we fought all year but you don’t come to Notre Dame to go 8-4, and everyone understands that,” Rees said. “You have to be better.”
The Cardinal will likely have to be better against the Sun Devils if they want to keep the Pac-12 title trophy another year.
Stanford had no problem sustaining drives but struggled to finish them with touchdowns in the second half, twice settling for field goals. On one of them, a holding penalty on right guard Kevin Danser — only the second one by a Stanford offensive lineman all season — erased a touchdown rushing for Gaffney.
Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth each intercepted a pass by Hogan, and officials also called a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Alex Carter — originally ruled targeted before it was overturned on a video review — that led to a Notre Dame touchdown.
Just as it has so many times over the past two seasons, the Cardinal defense still bailed out the offense in the end.
Lyons intercepted an underthrown pass by Rees, the 36th straight game the Cardinal have forced a turnover. And after the Irish stopped Stanford three-and-out, Lyons leaped high to intercept another pass by Rees on Stanford’s 30 with 2:24 left.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Lyons said after his first multiple-interception game at any level.
Rees finished 16-for-34 passing for 199 yards. He passed Jimmy Clausen (60) for second on Notre Dame’s career list with 61 touchdown passes, behind only Brady Quinn (95).
After losing to Alabama in the championship game, the Irish will have to wait to find out what lower-tier bowl they’ll land.
“It’s not where we want to be, 8-4 is not where we want to be,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We come to Notre Dame to win football games.”