Stanford’s players stood on the makeshift stage in the end zone, waving red roses as coach David Shaw accepted the Pac-12 championship trophy.
After all the Cardinal had been through this season, they earned a chance to repeat as Rose Bowl champions.
This trip to Pasadena might be even sweeter than the first one.
Tyler Gaffney ran for 133 yards and scored three touchdowns in a dominating first half, leading No. 7 Stanford back to the Rose Bowl with a 38-14 victory over No. 11 Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game Saturday night.
"We talk about what it takes to get into Stanford … where everybody else says you don’t have to do that," Shaw said. "When things get tough or when people say they (the players) shouldn’t do it or can’t do it, they don’t care. They put their heads down and keep working."
Stanford (11-2) raced out to a big lead Sept. 21 in its first game with Arizona State this season and had its way with the Sun Devils again early in the rematch, going up 28-7 early in the second quarter. Gaffney, as he has most of the season, did most of the damage, scoring on a 69-yard run on the Cardinal’s second play and a pair of 1-yard runs.
The Cardinal consistently gouged Arizona State’s defense for big plays all night, racking up 517 yards, including 240 on the ground.
Kevin Hogan kept the Sun Devils off-balance, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown. Ty Montgomery added a dash of versatility, catching a touchdown pass and running for another score.
Stanford’s defense, its calling card under Shaw and Jim Harbaugh before him, was dominating again, preventing Taylor Kelly from making big plays while holding Arizona State’s offense to 311 total yards.
After a seesaw ride into the Pac-12 title game that included a loss to unranked Utah, the Cardinal are headed back to Pasadena after a dominating performance.
"We had some downs this year, but we love each other," said Gaffney, who watched last year’s Rose Bowl from the sideline after returning from playing minor league baseball. "Being here makes it all worth it."
Arizona State (10-3) stumbled early for the second straight game against the Cardinal and again had trouble on special teams to spoil its Rose Bowl hopes.
The Sun Devils were able to beat Arizona without leading rusher and scorer Marion Grice last week, but had trouble getting much going offensively without him against the Cardinal.
D.J. Foster accounted for 142 total yards and two touchdowns before a knee injury sidelined him for most of the second half. Kelly threw for 173 yards and touchdown and was unable create plays with his legs against Stanford’s containment.
Instead of their first trip to Pasadena since 1997, the Sun Devils will likely play in the Holiday or Alamo Bowl.
"They dominated the game and beat us every way you can tonight," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "They obviously were the better team and deserved to win."
Stanford won the first meeting 42-28 by racing out to a big lead and holding a Sun Devils’ charge.
A lot happened in the 11 weeks since: Arizona State won seven straight to clinch the Pac-12 South and Stanford won the North despite losing twice.
The Cardinal got off to another fast start in the rematch: Gaffney raced 69 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that turned the raucous crowd inside Sun Devil Stadium nearly silent.
The Sun Devils had a quick counterpunch this time, scoring on their fifth play when Foster charged through up the middle for a 51-yard touchdown, eclipsing Arizona State’s entire rushing total (50) from the first meeting.
But Stanford followed with a series of body blows, churning out big plays behind its massive offensive line.
Gaffney scored on a 1-yard run after Hogan hit Jordan Pratt on 35-yard pass. Montgomery scored on the first play of the second quarter, racing in 22 yards on an end-around after Hogan connected on a 42-yard pass to Devon Cajuste. A 29-yard run by Anthony Wilkerson set up Foster’s third TD, a fourth-down dive that put the Cardinal up 28-7 early in the second quarter.
"We said all week not to let them make big plays and we didn’t do that," Arizona State safety Alden Darby said. "We gave up three bombs to let them score and that set the tone."
Arizona State finally showed signs of life late in the quarter, when Foster broke a tackle and turned a swing pass into a 65-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 28-14.
The Sun Devils had a couple of scoring chances in the third quarter and came up empty.
Zane Gonzalez ended his school-record streak of made field goals 18 by missing a 31-yarder and Stanford’s Zach Hoffpauir came off the corner to stuff De’Marieya Nelson on fourth-and-goal on Arizona State’s second attempt from the 1.
Stanford put it out of reach thanks to another big play early in the fourth quarter. Hogan hit Cajuste on a 78-yard pass, then found Montgomery on a 24-yard touchdown throw to put the Cardinal up 38-14 and headed back to the Rose Bowl.