STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Stanford rarely wins pretty. In the last two years, though, the Cardinal just always seem to win.
Fifth-ranked Stanford survived for its 13th straight victory late Saturday night, withstanding Keith Price's prolific passing performance and benefiting from an overturned call late in a 31-28 win over then-No. 15 Washington. Stanford (5-0, 3-0) showed that the same kind of might and muscle that propelled the program to a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl victory last season might be good enough to contend for another conference championship and maybe even more.
"We are a tough, mentally tough team, which of all the things you can ask for as a coach, that's what you want," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You want guys that don't blink."
Shaw should know.
In the last two years, Stanford is 7-1 in games decided by six points or fewer, with the loss coming at Washington last Sept. 27 when the Cardinal were still transitioning to life without Andrew Luck. The only other loss during that stretch came two weeks later in a 20-13 overtime defeat in a controversial finish at Notre Dame.
The rematch was another game Stanford did just enough to win. Washington's offense outgained Stanford's 489 to 284 yards. The Huskies had 30 first downs, while the Cardinal finished with 14. And both quarterbacks threw one interception.
The difference? Special teams.
Ty Montgomery had a school-record 290 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He caught three passes for 56 yards, ran 30 yards on two carries and racked up 204 yards returning kicks, including going 99 yards on the opening kickoff to put the Huskies (4-1, 1-1) behind for the first time all season and keep them there every time the game got close.
"We showed that we can stand in there and we can finish a game and win in a fight if we have to," said Montgomery, who was slowed — and sometimes sidelined — by a nagging knee injury as a sophomore last season.
The victory kept the Cardinal on a collision course with No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 2-0) in what could shape up as one of college football's biggest games this season on Nov. 7 at Stanford Stadium. But the Cardinal still have to play at Utah on Saturday and at Oregon State, with a home date against No. 11 UCLA squeezed in between.
At the very least, Stanford's style has put the program on firm footing in the Pac-12 North again.
The Cardinal have toppled two of the conference's rising challengers — Arizona State and Washington, which dropped one spot to No. 16 in the latest Associated Press poll released Sunday — and look every bit like the team that can win close games again.