Cal Keeps Axe in Game That Lives Up to Its Name

Mohamed's Late Interception Seals Wild Win at Stanford

Photo: Players and fans celebrate on the field with the Axe after Cal defeated Stanford at Stanford Stadium in the 112th edition of the Big Game.
Victoria Chow/Staff
Players and fans celebrate on the field with the Axe after Cal defeated Stanford at Stanford Stadium in the 112th edition of the Big Game.

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Football beat writers Matt Kawahara and Jimmy Tran react to the Big Game's wild ending and break down the Bears' win over Stanford.

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Cal 34
Stanford 28

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STANFORD-There were a lot of reasons why Cal fans should not have been celebrating on the field at Stanford Stadium at the end of the 112th Big Game on Saturday night. Why Mike Mohamed should not have had the chance to seal the win with an interception. Why Shane Vereen should not have been able to don a Cal hard hat and been smile from ear to ear in the melee. Why Syd'Quan Thompson should not have been shaking those dreads while being hoisted on shoulders above the crowd.

But that was the scene as time wound down on the Bears' 34-28 win over No. 14 Stanford. Mohamed snatched Andrew Luck's pass out of the night air near the goal line to put down the Cardinal's last-ditch comeback effort. Kevin Riley kneeled three times. Vereen grinned, Thompson shook and everybody in blue and gold exhaled and exulted. And the Stanford Axe was escorted off the field to be brought back to Berkeley for the seventh time in the last eight years.

The smashmouth football style that the Cardinal plays, which allowed it to score 106 points combined against USC and Oregon? Cal held Stanford to 345 yards and gained 477 total yards of its own, hammering out 242 on the ground and holding onto the ball for almost two-thirds of the game.

"All week long, all the talk was how physical they are, and how they're going to run this and things like that," said coach Jeff Tedford, victorious in his 100th game coaching the Bears. "Our big motto coming into this week was, 'We're going to find out who's physical.'"

The absence, once again, of Jahvid Best, without whom Cal (8-3, 5-3 in the Pac-10) wasn't supposed to be as effective on the ground? The Bears' offense turned into the Shane Vereen show, as the sophomore tailback carried 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns.

"A lot of people believed that with Jahvid's injury and stuff like that, we'd be at a disadvantage," left tackle Mike Tepper said.

"Shane made us look good tonight. ... He won this game for the offense."

Even during the game, Cal found itself down early, 14-0, following two early Gerhart touchdown runs, on the road, against the team that Tedford had called earlier this week, "the hottest in the nation."

Some might look at what happened in the latest chapter of this historic rivalry on Saturday night and think, yes, there were a lot of reasons why the Bears shouldn't have won this game.

So how did they?

"By thinking just that," Vereen said. "Nobody thought that we could do it. Everybody voted against us, thought that we were the underdogs, and we had a chip on our shoulder. We knew that coming in and the whole week of practice. That lit a fire under us."

It came down to the Cardinal's final drive, after Tedford decided to center the ball on third down and kick a field goal from Stanford's nine-yard line with 2:42 remaining to make the score 34-28.

The Cardinal found itself with a first down from the Bears' 13-yard line with about 1:30 left, after a pass from quarterback Andrew Luck to Gerhart, who carried defenders for 29 yards.

But after an incompletion on first down, Luck-a non-factor throwing the ball for most of the game-tried to force a pass over the middle that Mohamed pulled down for his third interception of the season, setting off a frenzy on Cal's sideline.

"My guy ended up staying in and blocking, so then I just looked out to the number one receiver," Mohamed said. "We had the safety and corner on him and I just tried to get under the route, looked back to the quarterback and then he (threw) the ball, and I just ended up grabbing the thing."

In the grander scheme of things, the Bears ended Stanford's Rose Bowl hopes with an offensive performance that ranked among its best-if not as the best-of the season. After splitting time of possession with the Cardinal (7-4, 6-3) almost equally in the first quarter, Cal went on to hold the ball for at least 10 minutes in each of the final three quarters and, starting with its final series of the first half, scored touchdowns on four straight possessions.

The offense that has been so erratic for stretches this season finally sustained multiple drives, and punched the ball into the end zone from inside the 10-yard line. A 14-play, 85-yard drive at the end of the second quarter got the Bears within four points, 14-10, with momentum heading into halftime. Drives of 11 plays for 92 yards, and 10 plays for 72 yards in the third quarter gave Cal a 24-14 lead. Vereen scored on runs of three yards or less on each drive.

"I thought (offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig) did a great job of calling plays, mixing it up with the run and the pass, and we didn't get in a lot of third-and-long situations, which is key always," Tedford said. "I thought our offensive line, our tight ends and fullback played well as far as blocking in the run game, and Shane played really hard."

The Bears converted 11 of their 19 third-down opportunities and recorded 31 first downs. Vereen was the biggest factor, with new career-highs in both carries and yardage. He showed no signs of tiring as the game went on, carrying 12 times in the fourth quarter.

"I just had so much emotion, I didn't even think about any kind of tiredness," Vereen said.

Maybe the most impressive thing about Vereen's performance was that he was not overshadowed by Gerhart, who carried 20 times for 136 yards and four touchdowns, breaking program records for rushing touchdowns in both a single season and a career.

Tedford, meanwhile, moved onto the verge of breaking his own landmark record. With his 67th win at Cal, Tedford tied Pappy Waldorf for the most victories by a Bears coach in the modern era. He'll have a chance to break it when Cal closes the regular season against Washington on Dec. 5.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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