By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. - In you're into numbers, there was nothing flashy about Stanford's defensive performance against Arizona on Saturday afternoon. Unless you enjoy happy endings.
The unit allowed 617 total yards, 491 passing yards, 38 first downs, and 103 total plays. The Wildcats were the first team to score more than 17 points against the Cardinal this year.
But, when it mattered most, down 14 points in the fourth quarter and its back against the wall, 18th-ranked Stanford produced a Mona Lisa.
Dissected most of the game by Wildcat quarterback Matt Scott, the Stanford defense forced a three-and-out with just over five minutes remaining. The offense responded, marching 79 yards in nine plays to tie the game with 41 seconds left on a 3-yard run by quarterback Josh Nunes to force overtime.
The Wildcats' spread offense, seemingly unstoppable from the second quarter on, took possession at the 25-yard-line and looked to regain the lead. Only it didn't happen. After allowing a quick first down, the Cardinal didn't budge. On third-and-10 from the Stanford 13, hard-charging defensive end Henry Anderson tipped a pass and outside linebacker Chase Thomas intercepted.
"He had a real quick release," Anderson said of Scott, who completed 45 of 69 attempts, both Arizona school records. "I was trying to tip the ball all game. I just had to push the pocket back as far as I could. I saw him cock his wrist and jumped up, and I think my helmet hit the ball."
Thomas was waiting. He clutched it out of a crowd to end the possession, and the maligned Cardinal offense did the rest. Stepfan Taylor's 21-yard touchdown run completed the shocking 54-48 comeback win in front of announced Reunion Homecoming Weekend crowd of 48,204 and a national television audience at Stanford Stadium.
"I saw a great defensive line get their hands up and saw the ball moving toward me," said Thomas. "As soon as I grabbed it, I knew I had to hold onto it."
As vulnerable as the unit looked at times, Thomas said everyone stuck together.
"We didn't start blaming each other or point fingers," he said. "We knew what we had to fix. It's huge to show that we can face adversity and overcome it."
It was a stunning reversal, especially for a Stanford offense that failed to find the end zone the previous week in a 17-13 loss at Washington. The Cardinal also accumulated 617 yards in total offense.
"Great game by the offense," said Anderson. "They carried us pretty much the whole game. We gave up way too many yards. Coming through in the overtime was huge."
Anderson said defending the spread offense was exhausting at times, but credited Stanford depth for coming through in the clutch.
"We had a good rotation all game and tried to keep it going," he said. "We played a bunch of snaps."
Three of Stanford's eight tackles for losses were sacks, all by different players. Strong safety Jordan Richards made 11 tackles, nine unassisted, while Thomas and inside linebacker Shayne Skov each had eight.
"We needed to play 60 minutes, more than 60 minutes," said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, "and we never, ever stopped fighting."
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Nunes on his turnaround from last week's performance against Washington:
"I definitely have confidence now. The guys up front did what they needed to do as well as the guys downfield. I used last week as a stepping stone going forward and learned a lot of things to work out."
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Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey had a big afternoon, rushing for 132 yards on 29 carries, and also caught seven passes for 68 yards.
"We need to keep going and do what we do best," he said. "Stanford's a great team and I give them credit. They stuck with it, fought back and did what they had to do to win."
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Quote of the game: "He'll be all right, they got ice for his arm." Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez on Scott's 69 pass attempts.
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Extra points: Stanford received two big plays from backup receivers. Kelsey Young carted an end around 55 yards for a touchdown, while Jamal-Rashad Patterson caught two key passes for 71 yards, including a 54-yarder ... Big foot: Cardinal punter Daniel Zychlinski averaged 54 yards on four attempts ... Stanford converted 7 of 14 times on third down, a big improvement. It came into the game averaging 24.6 percent, second-worst in the Pac-12 Conference ... Stanford Provost John Etchemendy was the honorary game captain.