Too many turnovers, too many defensive breakdowns. Mistakes again haunted Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish ended their first losing season since 1986 with a 40-37 loss to Rose Bowl-bound Stanford on Saturday night.
Mike Biselli kicked a 22-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, as the clock expired. It completed a 68-yard drive that included a roughing the quarterback penalty on Notre Dame's Anthony Denman and a 21-yard pass from Todd Husak to DeRonnie Pitts that got the ball to the Irish 5.
Notre Dame tied it at 37 with 1:32 left on a 5-yard scoring pass from Jarious Jackson to Jabari Holloway and a two-point conversion by Joey Getherall.
Tony Fisher scored three times for the Irish, who fell behind 14-0 in the opening 88 seconds, but battled back to lead twice before ending up with seven losses in a season for the first time since 1963.
"When you can't cover and you self-destruct and turn the ball over, you can't win," Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said. "It's unfortunate to go 5-7. I never want to be in this situation again, and I never want this football team to be in this situation again."
Stanford, playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 28 years, probably avoided the embarrassment of going unranked into that Jan. 1 showdown against No. 4 Wisconsin. The Cardinal, unranked all season, were on the cusp of the Top 25 last week.
Walters, who broke the Pac-10 record for yards receiving in a season with 183 yards on eight catches against the Irish, gave Stanford a 30-29 lead late in the third period with his 38-yard TD reception.
Backup quarterback Joe Borchard added a 2-yard scoring run with 8:13 remaining to give Stanford a 37-29 lead. Stanford, which won a non-conference game for the first time in three attmpts this season, handed Notre Dame its fourth straight loss and its seventh straight on the road.
"We were up, we were down, but it showed the character of this team by coming out on top. We had nothing to play for, but we hung in there and kept playing," Walters said. "Now we take momentum into the Rose Bowl."
Biselli added field goals of 47, 34 and 31 yards for Stanford, which lost defensive leader Willie Howard with a strained right knee in the first quarter. The defensive tackle's availability for the Rose Bowl was not immediately clear.
Fisher scored on runs of 9 and 1 yards and caught a 42-yard scoring pass from Jackson. Julius Jones added a 24-yard scoring run.
Walters set a Pac-10 record with 1,456 yards receiving this season, breaking the mark of 1,373 yards set by Johnnie Morton of Southern California in 1993.
Walters already holds Pac-10 career records for receptions (245) and yards receiving (3,995). He broke Morton's record on a 15-yard catch in the second period.
Jackson, who split the playing time with sophomore Arnaz Battle in his final game for the Irish, set school records for completions (184) and attempts (316) in a season and added to his record for yards passing (2,753) in a season.
The first 88 seconds of the game seemed to epitomize everything that has gone wrong for Notre Dame this season.
On Stanford's second play, Walters got behind the defense for the 62-yard scoring bomb from Husak. And two plays later, Notre Dame's Dan O'Leary fumbled after catching a short pass and the loose ball was returned 37 yards by Focht for a 14-0 Stanford lead with 13:32 left in the first quarter.
Jones fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the teams then traded interceptions before Biselli made it 17-0 with his 31-yard field goal.
With Battle at quarterback, Notre Dame drove 72 yards, scoring on Fisher's 1-yard run. And Jackson passed to a wide-open Fisher early in the second quarter to pull the Irish within 17-14.
After Biselli kicked his 47-yarder, Fisher got his third touchdown on a 9-yard run to give the Irish their first lead at 21-20. But Biselli kicked a 34-yard field goal as the clock ran out in the first half to give Stanford a 23-21 halftime lead.
Jones scored early in the third period and Fisher ran for the two-point conversion to give Notre Dame a 29-23 lead, capping a drive on which the Irish converted a fourth-and-1 on their own 43.
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