TJ Jones made a reaching 7-yard touchdown catch in overtime and No. 7 Notre Dame stopped Stanford inches from the goal line to beat the 17th-ranked Cardinal 20-13 Saturday.
After Jones and Tommy Rees gave the Fighting Irish (6-0) a seven-point lead in OT, Stanford (4-2) drove to a first-and-goal at the 4.
Stepfan Taylor ran for 1 on first, 2 on second and inches on third down. That left one play from inside the 1 and the Notre Dame defense, led by Carlos Calabrese, stood up Taylor and pushed him back.
Taylor kept reaching and turning, and ended up reaching the ball across the goal line, but the officials ruled it was too late. The play had been stopped.
The celebration had to wait for a replay review. It was close, but the call stood. The fans completed storming the field, and the national title hopes in South Bend remained alive.
"Our defense is incredible," Irish coach Brian Kelly said.
Rees relieved Everett Golson after the sophomore took a helmet to the head during Notre Dame's game-tying field goal drive late in the fourth.
In the overtime, Rees lofted a 16-yard pass to Theo Riddick to convert a third-and-8 to the 7. On the next play, he threw behind Jones on a slant and the receiver reached back for a sliding two-handed catch and a 20-13 lead.
Then the Fighting Irish defense, which has now not given up a touchdown in four straight games, made it stand. Almost half the field was covered with Notre Dame fans, as rain poured down during the postgame celebration. They didn't seem to mind.
Toss another victory into Notre Dame lore.
Jordan Williamson's 27-yard field goal with 6:12 put the Cardinal up 13-10, and the Fighting Irish drove into Cardinal territory when Golson took a helmet hit from Usua Amanam that was flagged for 15 yards.
Golson came out looking shaken up and Rees came in. He completed an 11-yard pass to Tyler Eifert, and then on third-and-4 from the 28 Eifert drew a pass interference call on Terrence Brown that gave the Irish a first down at the 13.
The Irish couldn't punch it in and Kyle Brindza kicked a 22-yard field goal with 20 seconds left to tie it at 13.
Two of the nation's best defenses figured to dictate the game on a gray rainy day in South Bend, and they didn't disappoint.
Notre Dame defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt was in the Stanford backfield all day and Manti Te'o was all over Stanford ballcarriers.
On the other side, Shayne Skov and Ben Gardner gave Golson and the Irish very little room to operate.
Golson alternated between scary and spectacular all day, completing 12 of 24 for 141 yards and a touchdown. He also lost two key fumbles — one that gave Stanford a touchdown and the other that gave the Cardinal the ball back after he made a long run deep into Stanford territory.
Josh Nunes had a similar day for Stanford, going 12 for 25 for 125 yards with two interceptions
The Irish got their offense going in the third quarter, outgaining Stanford 114-19, but couldn't get any points, in part because Golson fumbled inside the Cardinal 20.
Notre Dame finally found the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter. On a third-and-18 from the 24, Golson lofted a pass to the front corner of the end zone that the 6-foot-6 Eifert came down with a for a touchdown and a 10-10 tie.
Nunes, Taylor and the Cardinal responded with their best drive of the game, a methodical 16-play, 65-yard march that took 8:03 off the clock and reached the Notre Dame 3. The Irish got a stop on third down Williamson's 27-yard field goal made it 13-10 with 6:12 left.
The third season under a coach has traditionally been a memorable one at Notre Dame. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won national titles in Year 3 of coaching the Irish.
Brian Kelly's third season in South Bend was already starting to feel as if it could be special, too. Against Stanford, the Irish raised the stakes even higher.
"Six weeks left with this group, they leave here knowing they can win with the plan," Kelly said.