Shane Vereen was supposed to be Cal's every-down back after star Jahvid Best's scary injury two weeks ago. But he wasn't supposed to be this ridiculous.
He wasn't supposed to carry 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns during an inspirational performance Saturday night that helped Cal to a 34-28 win over Stanford in the 112th Big Game at Stanford Stadium.
"Amazing," Cal left tackle Mike Tepper said after watching Vereen account for almost half of the Bears' total plays. "Shane made us look good tonight. It was an honor for me to block for Shane. ... He won this game for the offense."
After Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed clinched the victory by intercepting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with 1:36 remaining, the Bears needed only to take a knee three times. Vereen spent that time admonishing the Cal contingent in the back of the end zone to celebrate. When the clock finally expired, Vereen soaked up the on-charging crowd while pointing to his family in the stands.
"I needed to do anything I could do to help our team win," Vereen said on the field immediately after the game, his voice choking with emotion. "I've never carried that many times, and I never thought I would carry that many times. I came into the game prepared for anything."
The 42 carries were the most by a Cal running back since Terrell Williams had 36 at Rutgers in 2001. A week earlier, Vereen rushed for 159 yards in a 24-16 win over Arizona in his first start since Best was injured against Oregon State on Nov. 7.
Vereen and Best came to Cal the same year, both regarded among the top running back prospects in the nation. Vereen has spent most of the past two seasons as Best's backup and has thrived in that role. He complemented Best's 1,580 yards last season with 715 of his own and was producing in a backup role again this season before Best went down.
"It shows a lot of heart and determination, the ability to stay focused throughout the game," Best said after watching from the sidelines. "Forty-two carries, that's crazy. I knew from the beginning when we came in together that he was special, that he was just as good as me even though I was in front of him. Now the world is getting a chance to see it."
Cal's offensive line had its best run-blocking game of the season, consistently opening up holes for Vereen. It was a methodical performance. Vereen had one 36-yard run but mostly kept the chains moving with strong runs to give the Bears good second and third down situations.
"He's a workhorse," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He's a great kid. He deserves a lot of credit. That guy has been the backup and he's so unselfish. To see the way he's performed the past two weeks has been awesome."
Vereen got the job done in a variety of ways, running inside and out and also taking a handful of direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation. And though Stanford's own Heisman Trophy candidate, Toby Gerhart, had another strong performance with 136 rushing yards and four touchdowns, it was Vereen who left the most lasting impression.
"He's the man," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "He stepped it up big-time."
Notes: Cal had 31 first downs, tying the Pac-10 high for the season. ... Bryan Anger had a punt blocked in the first quarter, the first Cal punt to be blocked since last year's game against UCLA. ... Freshman Vince D'Amato replaced Giorgio Tavecchio as placekicker and made a 21-yard field goal, as well as all four extra-point attempts. It was D'Amato's first game as placekicker since the Bears played at UCLA on Oct. 17. Tavecchio continued to handle kickoffs.