No. 10 - Sigh of Relief: Jeff Trojan's Final Onside Kick Recovery (vs. Oregon)
Stanford's 26-0 domination of Oregon had suddenly turned into a tenuous 26-20 lead. Had Jeff Trojan not saved the Cardinal's skin by snatching an onside kick attempt with two minutes remaining, the most devastating defeat in program history would have become very possible -- if not likely. The Ducks had been storming back into contention thanks to a blocked field goal, onside kick recovery, and a pair of touchdowns. That one onside recovery, by the way, came at Trojan's expense: He hurt his hand after Alejandro Maldonado's bouncer slipped through his grasp with five minutes remaining.
On his next chance, though, one of David Shaw's super-specialists got the job done. With the Oregon sideline heckling in full force and the entire college football world sititing on pins and needles, Trojan soared high into the air to bring down Maldonado's wobbler. The Cardinal had avoided a nightmare than would have made even 1982's debacle in Berkeley pale in comparison, and they had a former walk-on to thank.
No. 9 - Four Minutes of Fury: Murphy, Richards Interception, TDs (vs. Washington State)
The Cardinal have enjoyed several spurts of sheer dominance during the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era. When it comes to the most impressive combination of bone-crunching defense and explosive offense, though, a four-minute stretch during the third quarter of this season's game at CenturyLink Field may take the cake.
Stanford led 17-3 on a blustery evening when Trent Murphy pulverized Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday to spark the real storm. Jordan Richards intercepted the resulting wobbly floater and returned it for a Stanford touchdown (Ben Gardner administered a rattling block on the runback). Halliday was hurt on the play, and a Cougar three-and-out highlighted by yet another cringe-inducing collision, this time from Kevin Anderson on back-up quarterback Austin Apodaca, ensued.
Stanford's offense needed only two plays to score after the punt, with Michael Rector hauling in a 45-yard touchdown bomb from Hogan. Murphy got back to work immediately thereafter, intercepting Apodaca's screen pass and rumbling to the house to put the Cardinal up 37-3. It was the second straight season No. 93 had returned an interception for a touchdown on that field in Seattle, and it capped a monstrous surge that left the Emerald City stunned. By delivering a full game's worth of punishment in just four minutes, Stanford had flexed its muscles like never before.
No. 8 - Workhorse: Tyler Gaffney's 45-carry Effort (vs. Oregon)
It could not have gone down any differently on the fourth anniversary of the Tunnel Workers Union's finest hour. On November 7, 2009, that Stanford offensive line had paved the way for 38 punishing Toby Gerhart carries en route to a 51-42 upset over Oregon. The Cardinal did not beat the Ducks again at Stanford Stadium until November 7, 2013, when Gaffney delivered a blue collar effort for the ages, one that was reminiscent of the steamrolling Gerhart administered exactly four years before.
"Feed them your pads, Toby," Jim Harbaugh would say during that 2009 season.
This time around, Gaffney treated Oregon to a feast that they wanted no part of. There was no one carry that stood out from his school-record 45 on that Thursday night. His 157-yard load of work was about the sum of the effort. The fact that Gaffney's longest run went for only 16 yards made it all the more remarkable: It was a slow, methodical grind that helped the Cardinal churn out over 42 minutes of possession, and it came from a guy who had recently taken a full year off to play professional baseball.
No. 7 - Dagger: Montgomery's TD Follows Cajuste's 78-Yarder (at ASU)
Amidst all the phenomenal success, there's a trace of disappointment in Stanford's 11-2 campaign, simply because the club's two losses came at the hands of decidedly inferior teams. The Cardinal was on the doorstep of winning against Utah and USC, but late bouts of offensive ineptitude denied them both times. For the team to earn a berth in the 100th Rose Bowl, it would be forced to purge those road offensive woes with a convincing strike in the fourth quarter.
There's nothing like a 99-yard drive in the Pac-12 Championship Game to put problems to rest. Following the epic goal line stand that is guaranteed a spot in the second part of this Top 10 list, the Stanford offense took over at its own one yard-line against Arizona State. The Cardinal led 31-14 early in the fourth quarter, and Shaw recognized a golden opportunity to put a Fork into the Sun Devils. After consecutive fullback dives to buy some space, his offense faced third down at its own five yard-line. In the past, Stanford had played this type of situation very conservatively, and Shaw had vigorously defended that approach. He had repeatedly put the bulk of responsibility on his rugged defense, and it appeared that would be the case again with the crowd roaring in Tempe.
Not this time. With a linebacker matched up against receiver Devon Cajuste in the slot, Shaw broke from tendency. He sent No. 89 deep, and Hogan lofted a perfect strike over the middle of the field. Cajuste snagged it out of the air and raced 78 yards downfield to set up the finishing blow: a 24-yard dart to Ty Montgomery that again came on a play during which ASU showed the Stanford passing game little respect. The Sun Devils featured no deep safety on the snap, so Hogan roasted that opening with a post to his best wide receiver. A dynamic offense had emerged in the desert to secure a second consecutive Pac-12 Championship.
No. 6 - Shades of Gerhart: Hogan's Third Down Scramble (vs. Oregon)
There's some symmetry here: This play also came on the third down following a goal line stand spearheaded by Shayne Skov. In this version, No. 11 had stripped Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas of the football just about a yard away from paydirt. The Cardinal had taken over leading 14-0, but -- following two consecutive interior runs -- they soon faced a third-and-six from their own six yard line.
The Ducks certainly were intrigued by the prospect of regaining possession in good field position against a Stanford defense that had finally seemed vulnerable during the previous possession. Mark Helfrich's defense just needed to tackle Hogan in the backfield. Three Oregon defenders were there to do just that -- they all had their hands on No. 8. With a determined drive from his powerful lower body, though, Hogan broke free of their grasp. He maintained his balance and -- much to the delight of John Elway (see the picture above) -- sprinted 12 yards down the left sideline to move the chains and spark a 96-yard, eight minute, 26 second drive that kept the Quack Attack on the sideline for the rest of the first half. The ensuing score gave Stanford a three-possession lead entering the locker room.
Hogan broke those three Oregon tackles on the fourth anniversary of the game in which Gerhart shed dozens of Duck defenders on the very same field. Stanford's muscle advantage was its ticket to success against Oregon, so it's fitting that a play of brute strength was the hinge point on November 7.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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