Stanford faces a tough test in season finale against Notre Dame

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By Ana Kieu

According to Stanford assistant director of communications Mark Soltau, you could’ve heard a mouth guard hit the floor in the Cardinal locker room following Saturday’s 24-20 loss to the Cal Golden Bears in the 122nd Big Game.

Players sat in silence in front of their lockers with heads bowed or stared into space. Most showered quickly and left. That was how painful it was.

“We let down nine senior classes that have won this before and 10 including this one,” said senior inside linebacker Curtis Robinson. “It’s definitely not a good feeling.”

Another near-miss snapped a streak of nine consecutive victories against the Bears–the longest in series history–ending Stanford’s school record of 10 straight trips to the postseason.

“To lose the axe is a tough pill to swallow,” junior tight end Colby Parkinson said. “This one is going to hurt for a while.”

Stanford has battled through injuries all season and took another hit Saturday on the opening kickoff. Junior wide receiver Connor Wedington–one of the top playmakers in the Pac-12–returned it 37 yards, but was hurt on the play and didn’t return.

It has been that kind of season for Stanford, who has been short-handed most of the way due to a number of players getting hurt. The Cardinal has started 38 different players, with 18 seeing their first action, including eight true freshmen.

“I don’t want to blame the injuries,” said Robinson. “Football happens. You hope it doesn’t happen in the massive amount that we’ve had and it’s very unfortunate. But we have never at any point in the season made an excuse and we won’t for the rest of the season.”

Stanford (4-7, 3-6 Pac-12) concludes the 2019 campaign on Saturday at home against No. 15 Notre Dame (9-2), who beat Boston College on Saturday, 40-7. The Fighting Irish lead the overall series, 20-13, but the Cardinal has won three of the last four meetings and seven of the last 10, including five straight at home. The winner earns the Legends Trophy.

“It’s going to be a test of our character,” Robinson said. “It would be easy for anyone off the street to just quit because we don’t have a bowl game and we’re not having a great season. Anybody can do that.

“If we come out and we show that we prepared like we would for any other game, with the motivations of any other game, I think that will be a good sign for the program. And I don’t expect anything less from our team.”

Added Parkinson, “We have a group of guys that are strong and willing to fight. And that’s what we’re going to do next week.”

Senior defensive end Jovan Swann played an inspired game. He finished with five tackles, had a career-high three tackles for loss and a sack. Swann also blocked a field goal late in the second quarter, the first of his career, and the fourth blocked kick by the Cardinal this season.

Senior inside linebacker Andrew Pryts led the unit with a career-high 10 tackles, and the Cardinal produced nine tackles for loss.

Fourteen true freshmen played against Cal: Wide receiver Elijah Higgins (first start); offensive tackle Walter Rouse; offensive guards Barrett Miller and Jake Hornibrook; cornerbacks Kyu Blu Kelly and Zahran Manley; inside linebacker Aeneas DiCosmo; safeties Brock Jones, Spencer Jorgensen and Jonathan McGill; running backs Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat; tight end Bradley Archer; punter/kicker Ryan Sanborn.

“This game had all the emotion–much more than all the other games,” said Rouse, who made his 10th consecutive start at left tackle. “I really felt like the seniors and the coaches emphasized that and the importance of this game. I just can’t describe the feeling.”

Sanborn was a questionable participant until late in the week. He rallied to convert a career-long 48-yard field goal in the second quarter and calmly gave Stanford a 20-17 lead with 2:33 remaining in the game on a 44-yarder. Sanborn also punted three times, made both extra point attempts, and two of his four kickoffs went for touchbacks.

“That’s just what we’re here to do,” Sanborn said. “You have to be able to put it through the pipes whenever you’re out there.”

Sanborn said the loss stung.

“Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted,” Sanborn said. “I would have loved to have been able to send our seniors out on the right note. We just have to use it for fuel for the next 364 days.”

Stanford and Notre Dame have faced one common opponent: USC. The Fighting Irish edged the Trojans, 30-27 in South Bend, Ind., while the Cardinal fell in Los Angeles, 45-20. The latter came in the second game of the season for Stanford and marked junior quarterback Davis Mills’ first collegiate start.

Last year’s game at Notre Dame was the first time in series history that both teams entered with a top-10 AP ranking. The eighth-ranked Fighting Irish defeated the No. 7 Cardinal, 38-17, its first loss to Notre Dame since 2014.

Saturday is Fan Appreciation and Senior Day for Stanford. Seniors will be recognized on the field prior to the game.

Senior wide receiver Donald Stewart grabbed his first career scoring pass from Mills on a 40-yard reception … Sophomore wide receiver Michael Wilson matched his career-high with six catches for 43 yards … Sophomore wide receiver Simi Fehoko made three catches for 55 yards, including a 43-yarder. He has five receptions of 40 or more yards this season … Junior wide receiver Osiris St. Brown had a career-best five catches … Fifth-year senior running back Cameron Scarlett rushed for his 23rd career touchdown, one shy of No. 8 on the career list at Stanford … Ex-Cardinal standout John Lynch, general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, was honored prior to the game as part of the program’s 125-year celebration of Stanford football … Shayne Skov, served as Stanford’s honorary captain. A fearless competitor at inside linebacker and an inspirational leader, Skov was named Associated Press All-America third team and All-Pac-12 first team in 2013. Skov ranks No. 6 on the school’s all-time list for career tackles with 353 and played with four NFL teams, including the 49ers.

“To me, it’s Rivalry Game 2. It’s a way for us to end the season strong.” — Curtis Robinson on playing Notre Dame.

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