STANFORD — Many experts predicted the Cardinal would still be a good team without star quarterback Andrew Luck. But no one predicted that the season would end with Stanford making a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Thanks to the heroics of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan who has played only five games, four as a starter, (all in November), the Cardinal hang on to beat UCLA 27-24 in the second annual PAC-12 Championship.
“It’s been a good month,” Hogan said. “We’ve been playing well. You know, especially for me, just being able to play, it’s been fun. The guys around me make it a lot easier than it looks. I’m very fortunate to have such great teammates around me.”
Hogan was named the game’s MVP and was 16-of-22 for 155 yards and a touchdown. He also had 47 yards rushing and ran for a score.
The Cardinal have exceeded expectations by completing the regular season with a 11-2 record and 9-1 in the Pac-12. Their only questionable loss was to Washington, their fourth game of the season.
The only other defeat was to top ranked Notre Dame which is headed to the BCS Title game.
UCLA proved to be a worthy opponent. In a losing cause,Bruins running back Johnathan Franklin rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns while their redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley was 23-of-31 for 177 yards.
Stanford beat more top 25 teams than Alabama and Georgia combined this season. The Cardinal at one point defeated six teams that were ranked in the AP Top 25.
“The best thing about it, the only thing people that believed are the guys in that locker room now,”head coach David Shaw said. “The guys that we recruited, and we recruited that with those guys in mind. And I’ve said it a million times. If you can get enough, tough, smart, motivated individuals in one locker room like that to win in everything they do, they like to be successful, they push themselves, they push each other. If you’ve got that kind of a locker room, you can beat anybody.”
UCLA jumped out to an early 7-0 lead thanks to a 51-yard run by Franklin. The Cardinal would answer as running back Stepfan Taylor’s 33-yard run set up a 1-yard bootleg run by Hogan.
The Bruins running game was excellent in the first quarter. Hundley scrambled for a 48-yard run and he eventually scored on a 5-yard run to put the Bruins up 14-7.
UCLA was driving again with the ball when safety Ed Reynolds intercepted Hundley and returned it 80-yards. Officials say he was tackled at the 1-yard line but replays clearly showed the ball had crossed the goal line when he was tackled. The next play was a 1-yard touchdown run by Taylor to tie the game.
As time expired in the first half, Jordan Williamson gave the Cardinal a slight edge with a 37-yard field goal to put Stanford ahead 17-14.
In the second half, UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a 31-yard field goal to tie the contest. And then Franklin powered his way past the Stanford defense to score on a 20-yard run.
But Hogan was unfazed and threw a deep pass to Drew Terrell who was able to break away from the secondary to catch the ball in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 24-24.
Jordan Williamson has struggled this season as a kicker but not on this night. He was solid again from 36-yards out with 6:49 remaining to give the Cardinal a three point edge.
Stanford would hold off UCLA’s final drive with 2:18 remaining. The Bruins tried to send the game to overtime with a 52-yard field goal attempt by Fairbairn but it was way off the mark.
“We need to mourn a little bit…we need to get over this one,” UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr. said. “We poured it out there. Look at these guys, they freaking poured it out there today and we came up short. We’ll eventually move on, but this one’s going to sting for awhile. You don’t get this close and get that close, and lose and not have it hurt.”
Stanford’s bench jumped in jubilation and moments later after kneeling down in victory formation, the crowd stormed the field and players were embracing one another and putting roses in their mouths to symbolize their trip to the grandaddy of college bowls.
On the stage that was assembled by FOX for the trophy celebration, Hogan was given his MVP award and coach Shaw was handed the PAC-12 trophy for guiding Stanford to its 14th Rose Bowl game in school history.
NOTES: Taylor became the all-time rushing leader in school history with 4,175 yards in his four years on the farm, passing Darrin Nelson who held the previous record since 1981. … The Cardinal has now claimed three of a possible six Conference titles during the 2012-13 academic year (football, women’s soccer, volleyball).