“That’s what we kind of pride our program on, always finishing the job,” said fifth-year offensive guard Kevin Danser. “Today, we really did that. We wanted to finish the job, the task at hand, and get those 10 wins, which we did. And that’s what we’re all about.”
Many seniors savored the moment in the locker room afterward, realizing it wouldn’t happen again for them at Stanford Stadium. “This is your last time in here … be sure to cherish it,” said one player.
Fifth-year inside linebacker Shayne Skov did just that.
“It’s been a long ride and we’re starting to come to end of that ride,” he said. “We had to control our emotions and be ready to play.”
Junior wide receiver Devon Cajuste said sending the seniors out with double-digit wins was a big motivating factor.
“Oh my, yes,” he said. “I love these guys to death. They built this program, so to end them on a win, especially 10 – again – I couldn’t ask for any more.”
* * *Next up is Arizona State on Saturday in Pac-12 Championship game in Tempe, Ariz. Stanford could have hosted had Arizona knocked off the Sun Devils on Saturday night. Cardinal players didn’t know the outcome before leaving the locker room.
“Obviously, we’d like to play at home,” Skov said. “We’ve lost once here (to Oregon in 2011) in four years. Hey, we can’t complain. We’ve got another chance to play football again.”
Said junior cornerback Wayne Lyons, “We can’t worry about where we play. We just have to make sure our focus is where it needs to be. We have to be ready to play.”
“At the end of the day, football is football,” he said. “It’s a 100-yard field and 53 yards in width. There’s going to be lines every five yards and in the end zones. Hey, it’s a football field, it’s a stadium, it doesn’t matter where we play. We’re going to come to play physical football and come at them.”
When junior cornerback Wayne Lyons walked into the locker room after the game, he was serenaded by chants of, “Wayne! Wayne! Wayne!” by his teammates. His two fourth-quarter interceptions helped preserve the victory. What did the reception mean to Lyons?
“It means God is good,” he said smiled.
On the second interception, time was running down and Lyons expected Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees to throw deep.
“I believe it was being in the right place at the right time,” Lyons said. “I knew they had to get a good pass in order to move the ball because they were down late in the fourth quarter, so I got my head around and was able to come up with the pick. The first one was underthrown, so I was in position to find the ball and come up with it.”
Lyons credited the coaching staff for getting the defense ready for everything the Notre Dame offense tried.
“The coaches did a great job game-planning, so we were prepared for everything they had for us, based on the alignments and personnel,” he said.
* * *
Cajuste helped give the Cardinal a lead it never relinquished in the first quarter by making a diving catch in the back of the end zone on a 16-yard scoring pass from quarterback Kevin Hogan.
“We had practiced that all week, and practice makes perfect,” said Cajuste. “We kind of knew it was going to work based on the coverage and everyone was biting for Ty (Montgomery). We had to sell it a little more than we had practiced. When I went out, I was like, ‘All right, I’m wide open.’ I looked up – I didn’t look back for Hogan, so I didn’t see the ball and I was like, ‘Is the timing off?’ I got worried. And then he threw it and I was like, ‘Oh!’ It was exhilarating and just like we practiced it.”
Cajuste shared team receiving honors with three catches for a team-high 75 yards. After battling through an injury, he’s excited to contribute to the offense again.
“They’re working me more and more,” he said. “The way we work is we progress you back in, you earn every play and every rep. As long as you show it in practice, they’ll put you out there.”
* * *
The Cardinal defense managed to sack Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees only once, but Skov came up with it at key point in the game in the fourth quarter.
“Tommy Rees is a smart quarterback,” he said. “He was checking the plays off what he saw and getting rid of the ball quickly. My hat goes off to them. We were getting pressures, but he was getting the ball off quickly.”
Skov said the defense never felt a sense of frustration.
“No, we were getting hits on him,” said Skov. “If he feels our presence, that’s the first step.”
* * *
Running back Anthony Wilkerson burst up the middle for a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, just his second score of the season and first since the third game against Arizona State.
“It’s been a long while, but you know all the running backs talk about capitalizing on the opportunities you get and it feels good to capitalize with the utmost -- a touchdown,” he said. “It feels good just to contribute to a win. We have big dreams of winning the Pac-12 Championship and that was a good step to doing that.”
Like all smart running backs, Wilkerson gave kudos to his offensive line.
“The O-line just really opened that up,” said Wilkerson. “I think it was Andrus (Peat) pulling around and I just saw it open a wide open crease and I tried to make a move on the safety and he just tripped.”
* * *
Last year, Stanford sustained a tough 20-13 overtime loss at Notre Dame, a game that ended with running back Stepfan Taylor being whistled short of the goal line.
“Last year was last year,” Wilkerson said. “It’s always in the back of our minds. I’m not going to lie and I’m sure all of us were thinking about it. We feel like there was some revenge in our hearts, but we’re a different team this year and so are they. We’re glad we beat them this year.”
* * *
Running back Tyler Gaffney rushed for a career-high 189 yards, and earned all of them. He said it was the most physical game he has played all season.
“I could definitely agree with that,” said Gaffney. “I heard a lot of cracks of helmets out there.”
* * *
Senior offensive lineman Conor McFadden has eight family members who attended Notre Dame. Some were torn who to cheer for Saturday night.
“Oh yes, my own immediate family split,” he said. “My little brother likes to say, ‘Conor, just because you made a mistake, doesn’t mean I have to make the same one.’ Clearly, I’ve been proven right again. What an honor. I wouldn’t want to play with anybody else. This game has always been really special to me.”
McFadden couldn’t be happier that Stanford and Notre Dame rivalry will continue through at least the 2019 season.
“They do things the right way, like we do,” said McFadden. “That’s what’s going to make it such a great matchup moving forward. It’s great for both programs. I’m excited to come to this game for eons to come.”
* * *
The following Cardinal seniors were introduced before the game: Usua Amanam, Dillion Bonnell, Barry Browning, Devon Carrington, Jackson Cummings, Davis Dudchock, Danser, Chris Gaertner, Gaffney, Ben Gardner, Ryan Hewitt, Nelson Kenaur, Jarek Lancaster, Josh Mauro, McFadden, Trent Murphy, David Olson, Eddie Plantaric, Ed Reynolds, Shayne Skov, Jeff Trojan, Cole Underwood, Khalil Wilkes, Wilkerson and David Yankey.
* * *Extra points
Saturday’s win marked the fifth-straight nationally-ranked team Stanford beat at home this season … The Cardinal has now forced a turnover in 36-conscecutive contests, the second-longest streak in the nation behind Missouri (42) … Stanford moved up one spot to No. 7 in the AP poll on Sunday. The team has now been ranked a school-record 62-consecutive weeks … The offensive line was called for just its second holding penalty of the season … The Cardinal offense converted 8 of 13 times on third down … Montgomery returned four kickoffs for 127 yards, including a long of 51 … Harry Elam, the Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Stanford, served as the team’s honorary captain.
Quotable: “We knew we had to take care of business tonight and that’s what we did. We pounded the rock on them. Like Coach (David) Shaw always says, it’s always great to get tangible evidence.” Danser on the Stanford running game, which produced 261 yards.