Kevin Hogan has taken Stanford to a place Andrew Luck never could.
With the NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick and an elite class of seniors gone, a program that weathered the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh once again faced questions. Stanford coach David Shaw answered every one of them, finding a new clutch quarterback along the way.
Hogan threw for 155 yards and a touchdown and ran for 47 yards and another score, helping eighth-ranked Stanford beat No. 17 UCLA 27-24 in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night. The redshirt freshman won game MVP honors while leading the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl for the first time in more than a decade.
"Character," said Shaw, the Pac-12 coach of the year in his first two seasons. "Even when we don't play well, we still play hard. Our guys played with such heart. We made plays when we needed to make plays."
Hogan's biggest highlight came in the biggest moment of the game.
As a defender barreled into him, Hogan hurled a 26-yard tying touchdown pass to Drew Terrell on third-and-15 early in the fourth quarter. Jordan Williamson kicked his second field goal from 36 yards with 6:49 remaining for the go-ahead score, lifting Stanford to its first conference title since the 1999 season.
Many of the sparse crowd announced at 31,622 rushed the field. Players, wearing their all-black uniforms, danced on the sideline and later carried roses — or stuck them in their mouths — while parading around as confetti flew from a stage erected on the field.
What a way to ring in the post-Luck Era: The Cardinal (11-2) will play the winner of the Big Ten title game between Nebraska and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
UCLA's Brent Hundley threw for 177 yards and a costly interception that set up a Stanford touchdown. He still almost brought the Bruins (9-4) back, but Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a 52-yard field goal wide left in the closing moments of the disappointing loss.
Hogan completed 16 of 22 passes for a fourth win over a ranked opponent in his fourth straight start since unseating Josh Nunes at quarterback. After the Cardinal rolled past UCLA 35-17 last Saturday at the Rose Bowl, it took all 60 minutes to secure another victory in a rare rematch.
Scattered showers made the grass a bit slick, though the surface never seemed to slow down the Bruins, who ran for 284 yards with Johnathan Franklin (194 yards) leading the way. It was the most yards rushing allowed this season by Stanford, which yielded 198 in an overtime victory at Oregon two weeks earlier.
The Cardinal did just enough to win their seventh straight game and advance to their third different BCS bowl in as many seasons. They have won at least 11 games each year, part of a run that began behind Harbaugh and Luck, and now has carried on with Shaw and Hogan.
Stanford had won 10 games only three times before in program history (1992, 1940 and 1926).
"It's been fun," Hogan said.
The Bruins made the final road block more difficult than expected.
UCLA converted a pair of third downs before Franklin burst through the middle for a 51-yard touchdown on the game's opening drive. He carried safety Jordan Richards the final 5 yards into the end zone.
Stanford answered quickly. Hogan ran 14 yards on a read-option keeper to convert a long third down, fullback Ryan Hewitt bulldozed through the line on a fourth-and-1 and Stepfan Taylor took a short pass 33 yards, to inches shy of the goal line. On the next play, Hogan faked a handoff and rolled untouched for the tying touchdown.
Taylor finished with 78 yards rushing to eclipse Darrin Nelson's school record of 4,169. Taylor, an outgoing senior, has 4,212 for his career.
Before the Cardinal offense even found their seats on the sideline, Hundley ran 48 yards and scrambled for a 5-yard TD to put UCLA back in front, 14-7.
With the Bruins about to go ahead two scores, Ed Reynolds intercepted Hundley's pass and returned it 80 yards to set up Taylor's short TD run.
Officials ruled that Reynolds, who has returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season, was tackled by Hundley short of the goal line and a replay challenge by Shaw was inconclusive. Reynolds moved into a tie with Oregon State's Jordan Poyer for the Pac-12 lead with six interceptions.
Williamson kicked a 37-yard field goal as the first half expired to give Stanford a 17-14 lead. Fairbairn answered with a field goal from 31 yards on UCLA's opening drive of the second half.
Franklin capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 20-yard TD run late in the third quarter. That gave the Bruins a 24-17 advantage and put Stanford on the brink of its first home loss this season.
Instead, the Cardinal came back in impressive fashion.
After shaking off the safety, Hogan heaved the long touchdown to Terrell just over the cornerback's head. Terrell caught the pass in the short corner and pointed to the poncho-wearing crowd.
"We knew we had to remain calm and play our style," Hogan said. "We kept to it. We pounded the ball, got field position, got the TD to tie it."
Stanford stuffed UCLA three-and-out and Terrell returned the punt 18 yards to the Bruins 43. That set up Williamson's tiebreaking field goal.
One last UCLA drive nearly sent the game to overtime.
Tight end Joseph Fauria caught a pass over the middle on fourth-and-7 and lateraled the ball to Jordon James to finish a 17-yard completion. That helped set up Fairbairn's field goal with 34 seconds left, and the kick never looked on target.
"There's a lot of tears and a lot of disappointment but I think they should be proud of what we accomplished," first-year UCLA coach Jim Mora said.
Stanford has beaten the Bruins five straight games. UCLA was going for its first conference championship since 1998.
The crowd was the smallest at 50,000-seat Stanford Stadium since the Cardinal drew 30,626 against Sacramento State on Sept. 4, 2010.
"It felt like the whole entire game we controlled our own destiny, controlled this ballgame," Bruins defensive lineman Datone Jones said. "We dominated the line of scrimmage and stopped big runs."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP