Down 48-34 to Arizona with just over nine minutes to play, things looked very bleak for coach David Shaw and the No. 18 Cardinal. Fans streamed toward the exits, leaving Stanford Stadium looking like a shell of its former self just three weeks after a raucous crowd watched the Cardinal upset then-No. 2 USC.
But thanks to redshirt junior quarterback Josh Nunes, senior running back Stepfan Taylor and a resilient Stanford defense, the Cardinal roared back with two scores in the fourth quarter and a final touchdown to cap it off in overtime, beating the Wildcats 54-48 on Saturday afternoon.
Stanford (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) came out firing on all cylinders, marching down the field for a score on the opening drive of the game. But things quickly broke down thereafter, as the offense couldn’t really get into gear and the Wildcats (3-3, 0-3) ran play after play out of coach Rich Rodriguez’ high-octane spread offense.
A 46-yard bomb to tight end Levine Toilolo let Stanford go into halftime with a narrow 14-13 lead, but Arizona was beginning to wear down the Cardinal defense.
The Wildcats finished with a whopping 103 total plays on offense to Stanford’s 78, and reached 600 yards of offense just minutes into the fourth quarter.
But Nunes played inspired football in what was likely the best game of his life, topping 350 yards through the air with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and running for the first three scores of his collegiate career.
And as he did in the Cardinal’s upset victory over USC the last time he took the field at Stanford Stadium, Nunes stepped up when it mattered most—the fourth quarter.
Facing two critical fourth-down plays with under three minutes to play and Stanford down 48-41, Nunes scrambled for a 16-yard conversion and found tight end Zach Ertz for a 17-yard gain to set up a three-yard quarterback keeper to send the game to overtime.
The Wildcats took over from the 25-yard line on the first overtime possession, but defensive lineman Henry Anderson batted a Matt Scott pass up in the air and senior linebacker Chase Thomas came down with the ball to set Stanford up on the 25-yard line needing just a field goal to win the game.
Taylor came through with much more than that, breaking through the line on second down and rolling 21-yards untouched into the end zone to send the team onto the field in celebration of a 54-48 win. It was Stanford’s first overtime game since last season’s Fiesta Bowl disaster, and keeps Stanford in the running for a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game and a potential Rose Bowl berth.