With less than two minutes on the clock and the 113th Big Game on the line in a battle of two top-25 teams, California linebacker Mike Mohamed etched his name in Big Game immortality.
Backed against the end zone and Heisman Trophy runner-up and future NFL quarterback, Andrew Luck, marching the Stanford offense down the field for a potential game-winning touchdown, Mohamed reached to the sky to intercept any thought of a Stanford victory.
"I just remember we had fought so hard," Mohamed recalled. "Just one of those great feelings, and afterwards, our fans rushed their field. That was definitely one of the most memorable things."
As the Cal fans flowed onto the field at Stanford Stadium to celebrate the Golden Bears' 34-28 win, in the middle of it with his eye black smeared from sweat and tears was Cal running back Shane Vereen.
Just a sophomore that night, Vereen carried the load of the offense with 42 rushing attempts. Vereen, who had only been inserted as the starter the week prior, ran for 193 yards and scored three touchdowns.
His efforts significantly helped keep the coveted Axe trophy with the Bears in Berkeley for a second straight year.
Vereen has gone to have a successful NFL career that included a breakout 2012 playoff performance and a 2014 Super Bowl victory with the New England Patriots. In the Super Bowl he caught 11 passes for 64 yards. However, despite all the NFL success, Vereen still says the 2009 Big Game reigns as one of his favorite games he's ever played in.
"It's still up there," Vereen said. "Definitely the best in my college career. A real emotional win."
Similar to Mohamed, Vereen says one of the most memorable parts of that game was how the Cal fans rushed the field to celebrate the win with the team.
"We won at their place and rushed their field," Vereen emphasized. "And got the Axe back,"
Since Vereen's Giants have a bye this week, he and some former teammates are planning on attending this year's edition of the Big Game, which falls exactly five years to the day after his heroic game. Both Vereen and Mohamed say they stay in touch with friends, teammates and are closely watching every Cal game.
"We try and stay in touch as much as possible," Mohammed, who has played in the NFL since 2011, said. "It's tough but I try to stay in touch after games. After every game you'll run into Cal guys and say hi and catch up."
After Vereen and Mohamed shook the hands of the defeated Cardinal following that epic victory, they ran to the Axe and carried it to their locker room. There, surrounded by teammates, Mohamed once again reached high, this time with the Axe in hand.
"It was definitely the cherry on top," Mohammed said.
Tomorrow night, the current Bears look to bring the Axe home to Berkeley, but for that 2009 Cal team, the Axe was there's that night.
"We weren't intimidated," Vereen said. "The Axe belongs in Berkeley."
At this point, I was 100% sure. There was no way Cal would win this game. Losing a 14 point halftime lead, then a late 4th quarter three point lead, and then blowing a chip shot field goal that would have won the game? You don't make these mistakes and beat a team like USC. It just doesn't happen. Even when Reggie Robertson threw a spectacular 25 yard laser touchdown into the outstretched hands of Jonathan Makonnen with two Trojan pass rushers bearing down on him, I didn't believe. And I really didn't believe when USC immediately responded with a quick score to send things to a 3rd OT.
I'm not even sure I believed after Ryan Killeen missed a 40 yard field goal after USC's possession was stymied with a poorly timed penalty. And when Cal failed to get a first down and get any closer for TFred I wasn't sure I could handle the pain of a 3rd failed attempt. When the field goal unit trotted onto the field the Mic Man (or was it Mic Chick Kate Troescher at the time? My addled brain doesn't remember) told us all to join our hands in a silent prayer to the Gods of Football. A part of me still believes that the well-timed display of desperate unity somehow made the difference, though TFred kicking one yard further back from the line of scrimmage may have had more to do with it. In any case, you all know what happened next. I was so overwhelmed by the victory that I was momentarily stunned, but I was quickly forced to regain my awareness or risk being trampled by the downward surge of 18-22 year old humanity that flowed onto the field in rapturous celebration of a wholly unexpected win for the ages.