STANFORD, Calif. — The season finale for Notre Dame ended with a thud.
Tommy Rees was benched. The defense did little to slow down Andrew Luck. The red-zone offense struggled again.
Andrew Hendrix threw for 192 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in relief of Rees, leading a second-half rally for the No. 22 Fighting Irish that came up short in a 28-14 loss at fourth-ranked Stanford on Saturday night.
"When you have a bad start against a good team like Stanford," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, "battling back is not good enough."
Only room for one quarterback on The Farm.
Luck set the school record for the most career touchdown passes and eclipsed his own single-season mark. He threw for 233 yards and four scores with one interception in his home finale.
Luck topped John Elway's record of 77 touchdown passes and helped the Cardinal (11-1) build a 21-0 halftime lead. He has thrown for 80 touchdowns in three years — while it took Elway all four — and 35 this season.
"There's no player in America like Andrew Luck," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Forget about the stats. Forget about the comparisons of other guys. It doesn't matter."
Luck of the Irish? Forget that, too.
Luck is on Stanford's side now.
The victory likely vaulted the Cardinal into an at-large BCS bowl bid for the second straight year — with the Fiesta Bowl among the leading possible destinations — but they will not play for a major championship this season. The lone loss to Oregon put the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game out of the North Division and crushed Stanford's dreams of a national title.
"I think one loss, that's great," said Luck, who turned down a chance to be the NFL draft's top pick this year. "We've been on a 23-2 run for a while, I think it's pretty impressive. We put ourselves in position to be in a good bowl game, and that's what we wanted to do."
Notre Dame stumbled to the finish line again.
Rees threw an interception, lost a fumble and took a bruising blow to the ribs by Chase Thomas for Notre Dame (8-4) before getting benched. Keeping Stanford close gave the Irish little satisfaction.
"We didn't come here for second prize," said Kelly, who would not name a starting quarterback for the bowl game. "We got off to a slow start and battled against it. To me, the scoreboard showed 28-14 and that's not good enough. The slow start put us in a tough position."
A sloppy second half by Stanford allowed Notre Dame to fight back.
The quarterback move pumped some life into a stagnant Irish offense.
Notre Dame took advantage of pass interference and roughing the passer penalties for its first score. Hendrix threw a 6-yard TD to Michael Floyd to slice Stanford's lead to 21-7 halfway through the third quarter. Floyd finished with 95 catches on the year, breaking the single-season mark of 93 set by Golden Tate in 2009.
The Irish were driving for another score when Hendrix overthrew a receiver, the ball was tipped and intercepted by Michael Thomas. When Notre Dame regained possession, Hendrix was sacked by A.J. Tarpley for a 13-yard loss that sent another drive tumbling.
"Consistency is the one thing I have struggled with the most," said Hendrix, who completed 11 of 24 passes.
Only room for one quarterback to steal the show.
Luck quickly connected with Coby Fleener for a 55-yard TD pass to extend Stanford's lead to 28-7 with 5:40 remaining and put the game out of reach. Fleener also caught a 28-yard TD in the first half that gave Luck every major school touchdown record.
Stanford's Senior Day belonged to the redshirt junior.
Luck lobbed a fade to the short corner of the end zone to complete a 3-yard score to Levine Toilolo, giving Stanford a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Even he had to hold back a smile running to the sideline to a swarm of well-wishes from teammates for the records-tying toss.
But Luck lost his rhythm when a back-side blitzer closed the pocket, and he tossed a short pass that Darius Fleming intercepted and returned 35 yards. Notre Dame took over at the Stanford 10 after a 15-yard penalty on Fleener for a horse collar.
Stanford stifled the Irish on consecutive plays and forced a 20-yard field goal that David Ruffer missed wide right.
Luck followed with a 28-yard TD pass to Fleener. The tight end dragged cornerback Robert Blanton the final 10 yards into the end zone, sealing Luck's marks in the school record book.
The Irish have not beaten a top-five opponent since a 17-10 victory over Michigan on Sept. 10, 2005. They still have a chance to eclipse last season's win total in the bowl game.
"It's just mistakes, mental errors. We had to step back and get some things corrected quickly." Floyd said. "We didn't execute in the red zone. That's where we fell short."
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