Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner reacts after a goal line stance denied… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Ben Gardner was planning to return home Wednesday to Mequon, Wis., as a Rose Bowl champion.
It's unlikely he'll receive a hero's welcome from anyone other than blood relatives, and even they may have a few reservations.
This was "local boy makes good." It's just that he didn't do it for the local team. Gardner, a senior end at Stanford, made the key defensive play against Wisconsin in the Cardinal's 20-14 Rose Bowl victory Tuesday.
Gardner smothered running back James White on fourth and goal at the one-yard line early in the second quarter. It would have been a touchdown that would have come in handy for the Badgers in a game that will have rugged defense and inefficient offense as a legacy.
Now Gardner, 6 feet 4 and 275 pounds, will have to go home and explain his actions.
"I'll try to keep my mouth shut as much as possible," Gardner said.
And the chances of that happening?
"I'll find out," Gardner said.
Still, any hard feelings might be best directed at Madison, Wis. The Badgers could have had Gardner. All they had to do was ask.
Gardner was lightly recruited as an undersized senior at Mequon Homestead High. He did have offers from Big Ten country (Northern Iowa, Illinois State) just not from Big Ten Conference teams. The best Wisconsin could do was ask Gardner to walk on.
"Thankfully, Stanford came in at the end," Gardner said.
The Badgers paid for it during an unusual goal-line stand. Wisconsin scored two touchdowns on the drive and came away with no points.
Montee Ball's eight-yard touchdown run was wiped out by a holding penalty. Curt Phillip's 11-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Pedersen on third down was overturned by a review, which determined Pedersen was down at the one.
On the next play, White took a direct snap and found Gardner waiting.
"He's sneaky," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. "He's not 315 pounds. He's not enormous. But he makes guys miss, gets off blocks, makes plays."
This one preserved a 14-0 Stanford lead. It was a sobering moment for the Badgers.
Wisconsin had 539 yards against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers even churned out 218 yards against Stanford, a team that had given up only 87 yards rushing per game.
But they couldn't negotiate one yard.
"That's tough to take," Phillips said. "We pride ourselves in being able to punch it in."
The Badgers, though, lacked their best punch on the play. The Badgers had Ball, their 215-pound handful of a running back, on the sidelines for the fourth-down play.
"I'm always upset that I'm not in the game," said Ball, who was given the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back this season. But, he said, "that play was working leading up to this game. The D-linemen did a great job clogging holes."
One did, anyway.
"I had a hunch where they were going and shot the gap," Gardner said.
Now he can go home and talk about it.
"It feels pretty darn good, I'll tell you that much," Gardner said. "To be able to do it against the Badgers, a team I grew up watching, is sweet."
That might not play too well in Wisconsin.
But, as Skov said, "Ben's not a Wisconsin guy. He's a Stanford guy."