The biggest Big Game in ages lived up to its billing with brilliant individual performances, huge momentum swings, questionable coaching moves and a fabulous finish.

It even packed a role reversal: The power running game belonged to Cal.

Behind an unstoppable offensive line, the Bears rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to upset Stanford 34-28 on Saturday and claim the Axe for the seventh time in the past eight years.

And for only the second time this decade, the prohibitive favorite lost.

"Stanford was the hottest team in the country," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "For our kids to rise to the occasion, and do it at their place — it's a huge victory."

The outcome means the Cardinal (7-4, 6-3 Pacific-10) and Bears (8-3, 5-3) are both expected to land in one of three bowls: The Sun, Emerald or Las Vegas.

(Even if Stanford had won, the Cardinal would have been eliminated from the Rose Bowl race by Oregon's victory over Arizona.)

"Everybody was talking about how Stanford was going to win," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "We just shut up and played."

From Toby Gerhart's 61-yard touchdown run on the opening series to Mike Mohamed's game-saving interception in the final minutes, it was a riveting evening full of twists and turns.

Cal's Shane Vereen, not Gerhart, was the best tailback on the field. Vereen, starting in place of the injured Jahvid Best, set career highs with 193 yards and 42 carries. (Gerhart wasn't bad either, with 136 yards and four touchdowns.)


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Cal's Riley, not Stanford's Andrew Luck, was the more poised quarterback in the game. Riley made several big throws, especially on third down; Luck fumbled several snaps, completed just 10 of 30 passes and threw the decisive interception.

And Cal's offensive line, not Stanford's, was the most dominant force in the game. The Bears blew Stanford off the ball the way Stanford has blown so many teams off the ball, creating running lanes for Vereen between the tackles.

"They sustained long drives, and that kept us off the field and didn't allow us to get into a rhythm," Gerhart said.

The Bears fell behind 14-0 and then scored 24 consecutive points. They possessed the ball for 39 of the 60 minutes. They outgained Stanford 477-345, they had five drives of 70 yards or more and they overcame two big plays by Stanford early in the game — Gerhart's long touchdown run and a blocked punt that set up the Cardinal's second score.

"Our offense had chances to answer and didn't, and our defense had chances to get off the field and didn't," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "They won both phases: offense and defense."

Both coaches made questionable decisions with Cal leading by three points and only a few minutes remaining.

The first came with Stanford facing fourth-and-eight from its 23. Instead of punting, Harbaugh elected to go for it. But Luck misfired badly, and Cal took possession, victory within its grasp.

But then Tedford offered a head-scratcher of his own. With first down at Stanford's 11, he called two running plays and then directed Riley to run into the middle of the field and take a knee. The Bears kicked a 28-yard field goal to take a six-point lead.

The plan, Tedford said, was to put the ball in ideal field-goal position, and force Stanford to use its timeouts and score a touchdown to win.

"I didn't want to risk anything,'' he said.

The plan appeared to backfire when Stanford returned Cal's short kickoff to the Cardinal 42. Then Gerhart caught a sideline pass from Luck, broke three tackles and carried two Bears another 10 yards, giving Stanford first down at the Bears 13 with less than two minutes remaining.

But Luck's second-down pass was intercepted by Mohamed.

"I just didn't put enough air on it,'' Luck said.

  • next game:
    Dec. 5, at Washington, 3:30 p.m.


  • next game: Saturday, vs. Notre Dame,
    5 p.m.