STANFORD, Calif. – Notre Dame needed every last yard and every defensive stop to become eligible for its first Bowl Championship Series berth in five years.

Darius Walker ran 6 yards for the winning touchdown with 55 seconds remaining and took a direct snap to run in for the 2-point conversion, and the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish became all but assured of playing in one the four marquee bowl games with a 38-31 victory over Stanford on Saturday night.

Brady Quinn passed for 432 yards and three touchdowns but also threw two interceptions, and Notre Dame survived a wild final few minutes for its fifth straight victory since a 34-31 loss to No. 1 USC on Oct. 15. The Irish (9-2) won seven of their final eight games under first-year coach Charlie Weis.

, who made a key decision to switch kickers in the fourth quarter then gave his team a major scare when he switched back to starter D.J. Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick missed a 29-yard field goal wide left with 2:15 to play after his earlier extra point missed off the left upright and then his 42-yard field goal attempt in Notre Dame’s next possession went wide left.

Stanford took advantage.

The Cardinal, who will miss a postseason trip in coach Walt Harris’ first year, went ahead 31-30 with 1:46 left after backup quarterback T.C. Ostrander’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Matt Traverso. Ostrander set up the score with a 76-yard completion to Mark Bradford.

Jeff Samardzija caught two touchdown passes and Travis Thomas ran 8 yards for a score with 9:44 left for the Irish, who played in front of three representatives from the Fiesta Bowl and beat Stanford for the fourth straight time – having a much tougher time than they did in a 57-7 rout of the Cardinal here in 2003 in Tyrone Willingham’s return to The Farm.

Samardzija increased his school-record single-season touchdown receptions mark to 15 and finished with nine catches for 216 yards to become Notre Dame’s third career 1,000-yard single-season receiver. Maurice Stovall had seven catches for 136 yards and a TD.

But Stanford made a game of it in the final event at Stanford Stadium only one week after an embarrassing 27-3 loss to archrival California in the Big Game, but finished 5-6 in Harris’ first season and missed a chance at the school’s first trip to the postseason since 2001.

The Cardinal certainly will be left to think all winter about a 20-17 loss to UC Davis – a team making the transition from Division II to Division I-AA – in Harris’ home debut. The Cardinal played the second-toughest schedule in the nation behind Oklahoma as rated by the NCAA.

AP-ES-11-26-05 2348EST

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