Cal's late rally beats Air Force

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • U. S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Reserve quarterback Kevin Riley threw three touchdowns and ran for a fourth rallying the University of California to a 42-36 win over Air Force in the fifth annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, before a bowl-record 40,905 at Amon G. Carter Stadium and a nationally televised audience on Dec. 31 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Golden Bears rallied from a 21-0 second quarter deficit to spoil the return of the bluesuiters to the post-season, following a five-year hiatus (the 2002 San Francisco Bowl).

"They made quality adjustments," Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said. "They were healthy, quick and executed well."

Health figured in the outcome for the Falcons when senior quarterback Shaun Carney, who, ironically, began his Falcon career in a 56-14 loss to Cal in 2004, was helped off the field after a severe right knee injury ended his afternoon with 3:03 left in the third quarter and Air Force up 24-21.

The loss gave the Falcons (9-4) an 8-9-1 all-time bowl record.

Air Force's first possession resulted in a nine-play, 87-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Carney.

The Falcons widened their lead to 14-0 when Carney rolled left and hit wide open tight end Travis Dekker for a 7-yard touchdown pass just :50 into the second quarter.

The ensuing kickoff was pooched by Ryan Harrison and recovered by Falcon Aaron Kirchoff at the Golden Bears' 40 yard line.

Five plays later, tail back Jim Ollis, who carried 16 times for 101 yards, scampered in from eight yards out to balloon the advantage to 21-0.

Cal (7-6 plus 9-8-1 all-time in bowls) responded on its next possession, when Riley, who replaced starter Nate Longshore at quarterback in the second quarter per head coach Jeff Tedford's game plan, hit wide receiver DeSean Jackson on a 40-yard touchdown pass in the far corner of the end zone.

After a stalled Falcon drive, Cal flexed some of the offensive muscle that earned them a #2 national ranking after a 5-0 start, by driving 70 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 5-yard Riley-to Lavelle Hawkins 5-yard scoring pass to make it 21-14 Falcons at halftime.

Senior Chad Hall, the do-everything z-back for Air Force during the regular season, sprinted around right end for a 23-yard gain early in the third quarter, but appeared to fumble at the Cal five yard line. Upon further review, the call on the field was reversed. Air Force capitalized on the reversal with a 29-yard Ryan Harrison field goal.

Cal came back within 24-21 with a 62-yard, eight-play drive punctuated by Riley's third touchdown pass, an 18-yarder to Robert Jordan.

"We were preparing for Longshore and not Riley," said Air Force senior linebacker Drew Fowler who with Ryan Kemp and Bobby Giannini had a team high nine tackles. "Our defense lives off pressure and Riley excelled today because we didn't get any on him."

Hall ended his Air Force career with 179 all-purpose yards (63 rushing, 36 receiving and 80 in kick returns). Most of his production came in the second half.

"We were moving the ball well so I was a bit of a decoy early," Hall said when asked about Ollis and Carney sharing the load offensively. "The way Shaun reacted (when he went down) we all knew. It was tough because we're great friends."

Carney, who ended his collegiate football career as the Falcons all-time leader in total offense, passing yards and touchdown passes, was replaced by junior Shea Smith.

After Carney's exit, Harrison booted a 19-yard field goal making it 27-21 Air Force.

The Riley-to-Jordan combination clicked again for a 52-yard completion late in the third quarter. Two plays later Justin Forsett ran in from one yard out giving Cal its first lead at 28-27 after three quarters.

Forsett, who finished with a game-high 144 yards on 23 carries, scored his second rushing touchdown, a 21-yarder early in the fourth, upped Cal's cushion to 35-27.

An Armed Forces bowl-record 47-yard field goal by Harrison narrowed the gap to 35-30 midway through the fourth stanza.

But, a 1-yard touchdown run by Riley made it a two-possession game with 6:13 to play.
Hall's late 4-yard run wrapped up the scoring.

Paced by Carney's team-high 108 rushing yards, Air Force ran for 312 yards, giving them a 35:07 to 24:53 time of possession advantage. However, that could not negate the big-play passing game of Riley, voted Cal's Most Valuable Player of the game. Carney earned the same honor for Air Force.

"We fired every piece of ammunition we had at them and didn't have anything left in the arsenal," Coach Calhoun said. "When you have kids with big hearts, you have a chance to be competitive. We have a special school and a phenomenal group of seniors." 

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