PALO ALTO, Calif. — Notre Dame couldn’t win for losing this season.

Not for losing twice by two points — to the No. 1 team in the country in a monsoon on the road and again Saturday to the nation’s No. 9 team more than 2,200 miles from home.

Not for losing 12 starters, including eight to season-ending injuries.

Saturday proved to be the date fate dealt the Irish out of the College Football Playoff discussion for good, thanks to a 45-yard field goal as time expired to give Stanford a 38-36 victory.

“It’s never about one series or one play,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s a culmination of the game, and the reality is, we’re two plays away from being the No. 1 team in the country — one play at Clemson and one play here at Stanford.”

After starting the season as an afterthought on Notre Dame’s sideline, not to mention its depth chart, Kizer finished it on his back, in disbelief, as Cardinal players celebrated around him.

“I’m completely blank inside,” said Kizer, who with 30 seconds left tied the score on a 2-yard run before Justin Yoon’s go-ahead extra point gave the Irish a 36-35 lead. “It’s hard to describe how you feel in a time like this.”

And while Kelly is right about one series or one play, there were a couple Saturday that left Kizer, defensive lineman Sheldon Day and many others in white and navy and gold, in disbelief.

Stanford began its march for the uprights at its own 27. An innocent 1-yard run by quarterback Kevin Hogan turned into a 16-yard gain when Isaac Rochell was found guilty of a face-mask penalty that cost the Irish 15 yards. Two plays later, the back of the Irish defense was exposed again when Hogan found Devon Cajuste for a 27-yard completion, setting up a kick Conrad Ukropina will never forget. One the Irish wish they could.

“I wish we could go back and do something differently,” Kizer said. “But that’s how the cookie crumbles.”

And so that’s how Notre Dame’s dream crumbles too.

“This team all year made a point to let everyone know what our mission was,” Kizer said. “We truly thought we were one of the best teams in the country. We know that kind of fell away with this loss.”

On a macro level, six points separated Notre Dame from a chance at accomplishing its mission, a mantra married to the “Culture over scheme” motto adopted by the team before the season that suggested anything less than a national championship was a failure.

That mission lured right tackle Ronnie Stanley, a sure-fire first-round pick, and defensive lineman Sheldon Day, same as Stanley, back to South Bend for another crack at a dream.

One a micro level, there were cracks in the foundation that suggested a scenario such as Saturday’s was a possibility.

Eleven times in the last two games Notre Dame advanced to the red zone. The Irish came away with one touchdown — Kizer’s 2-yard dive Saturday. Three other trips resulted in Yoon field goals Saturday.

Twenty-five times this season the Irish allowed touchdown drives of at least 75 yards. They needed a last-second scoring pass from Kizer, in relief of Malik Zaire, to defeat Virginia. They barely beat Boston College. They won by four against Temple.

Still, a bowl game awaits the Irish, though it’s not the one they had envisioned.

“It still hurts to go out this way, as far as the end of the season,” said linebacker Jaylon Smith, another likely high first-round pick who had a game-high 15 tackles. “But it’s definitely a learning lesson for all of us in our lives. A lot of unique situations where things aren’t going your way. It’s all about how you respond.”

Notre Dame will have one more chance to do that, though it’s not quite the response it was hoping to have to make.