By Patrick J. Merrill `01
Nov. 21, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. -Sophomore tailback Shane Vereen made the most of his third start this season, stepping onto the high-stakes stage that is The Big Game, running for a career-high 193 yards, 42 carries and three touchdowns to lead the Golden Bears to a 34-28 victory over the Cardinal Saturday night at Stanford Stadium. It was the fourth 100-yard game of his career. But for Vereen, it was just another week of preparation for a game that was as important as any other. Well, almost any other. It was still Big Game after all.
"We knew this was a big game - that this was the Big Game - and we went into this week with a great deal of focus," said Vereen. "I came into the game today prepared for anything. This was a team win, it wasn't just about me."
It was a tremendous team effort by Cal, but it was also a tremendous individual effort by Vereen, who was thrust into the starting role when TB Jahvid Best was injured two weeks ago against Oregon State. Vereen's 42 carries was a Pac-10 season high in a single game, squarely placing the spotlight on him whether he recognized it or not.
"The young man is a phenomenal individual," reflected running backs coach Ron Gould in the locker room while the Bears celebrated around him with The Axe. "I couldn't be more excited for Shane. I wrote him a letter and told him to run with a chip on his shoulder, because everyone was talking about Gerhart. I told him to run with a chip on his shoulder and to prepare like he always prepares and good things will happen. I told him not to get frustrated and that every yard counts. I told him to keep chipping away."
And that's exactly what he did. Vereen completed the first half with 81 yards on 17 carries, scoring once in the first 20 minutes.
"I told Shane that I didn't want him to feel any other pressure. I just wanted him to do his job. I told him not to worry about anything else and not to feel like he had to tote the load; that if he just did his part that that would be good enough."
Vereen provided the go-ahead touchdown for Cal on the Bears' first drive of the second half, reaching the end zone from four yards out with 9:55 left in the third quarter. Cal went up 17-14 with the extra point and never trailed again. He would score once more later in the third quarter to put Cal up 23-14.
"Shane tonight, on the biggest stage there is for a Cal Football player, came through so big," said Cal Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour on the sidelines as the final seconds ticked off the clock. "I'm really proud of him and of all of these guys. This week, our rivalry week, it doesn't get any better than this."
With Stanford entering The Big Game ranked No. 14 and coming off an impressive win at USC last week, the stakes were high for Cal fans who packed into a sold out Stanford Stadium to cheer on their Bears. This game was perhaps as big as any bowl game, a chance for redemption following Cal's only previous loss this season to a ranked opponent - a loss at home against then No. 7 USC. With Cal's win over No. 18 Arizona last week and tonight's victory over No. 14 Stanford, the Bears are now 2-1 against ranked opponents in 2009. Perhaps more notable, it was the first time Cal has defeated ranked opponents in back-to-back weeks since 1950.
And the Cal fans in attendance Saturday night let the Bears know just how much they appreciated the effort.
"It felt a lot like a home game," said Vereen. "I was so excited to see the fans running out on the field with our team. I couldn't be more proud about being part of this family."
Vereen wasn't the only one feeling some California pride in the locker room.
"I'm not able to articulate or express the joy that I feel, this being my thirteenth season, having these guys come in and perform the way that they performed tonight," said coach Gould. "It just means the world to me and I know it means the world to these young men."
With a lot to be proud of, Vereen remained his typical humble self following the win. When asked what he would say to his family later tonight, he wasted no time replying "I'm tired. I need food." No kidding.
"I was moving my feet and trying to push as hard as I could, just thinking go baby go," reflected Vereen about his mentality throughout the game. "I was just trying to put my team in a great position to win."
And that's what great players do. For Vereen, there was nothing special in his preparation for The Big Game, just his usual work ethic. That, in and of itself, is pretty special.
"That's just who he is," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "That's just the kind of guy he is."