Falcons upset California 23-21, advance to 3-0
By John Van Winkle, Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published September 23, 2002
BERKELEY, Calif., (AFPN) -- Three touchdowns and 124 rushing yards by quarterback Chance Harridge led Air Force to a 23-21 upset over No. 23 California.
The Falcons advance to 3-0 on the season, and have the nation's top-ranked rushing offense in Division I for the fourth consecutive week.
"What you saw today was a very great, great college football game. Two teams that never gave up," said Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry. "Our defense did a tremendous job keeping them out of the end zone right up until the very end of the game. Their offense would never go away. They had a great quarterback. Unfortunately for them, their receivers dropped a lot of passes."
But it was a dropped ball by Air Force that led to the Golden Bears' first score. Harridge's fumble was recovered at the Air Force 28, but the Falcons defense held Cal to a field goal. California kept that lead well into the third quarter, in what became a duel of field goals until the Falcons eliminated turnovers and got their triple-option attack firing on all cylinders.
"In the second half, we started clicking," said Harridge. "We realized that this was our chance to do something. We quit trying to run outside, we quit trying to run sweeps and we just started running the triple option right at them...and they just couldn't stop it. We ran right at them for the entire second half of the game."
Harridge's first touchdown cut the deficit, and his second touchdown put Air Force up 16-15 in the fourth quarter. His third touchdown capped the score at 23-15, at the two-minute warning.
"I thought our defense played very well," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "You're never going to stop that offense. I thought we contained it very well and gave us a chance to win."
Cal came back to score one more touchdown, but with only 31 seconds left on the clock, Air Force's running game burned those last few seconds away.
Air Force ended the game with 295 yards rushing, including 76 yards by fullback Steve Massie, and another 124 yards by Harridge. Defensively, the Falcons limited Cal to 119 yards on the ground, and 13 of 37 completions with one interception made by Falcon cornerback Wes Crawley.
"They ran a real unorthodox offense and defense, something we weren't used to," said Cal defensive end Tully Banta-Cain. "We'll probably never see an option team like that again. It's a tough loss to swallow."
"But the measure of a great team is how they bounce back from a loss," he said. "We have to keep our heads up. We let this one slip away from us but we can't get down about it. We have a lot of games left to play. We have to keep getting after it. We just have to put this one behind us and look forward to the next game."
The character of California's team is also something Air Force coaches and players noted during preparations for and after the game. The Golden Bears won only a single game last year. But under new head coach Tedford, California was off to a 3-0 start, scoring 50 points per game and had cracked the national rankings before Saturday's game.
"Cal played really well today," said Harridge. "This is probably one of the classiest group of guys that I have ever played against in my life. No trash talking and they would say things like 'good play, good hit, good run' and they would try to help you up after the play. I was thoroughly impressed with the way that Cal (players) handled themselves."
The Falcons season continues Sept. 28 at Utah. After that Mountain West Conference matchup, the Falcons play five games in 26 days against Navy, BYU, Notre Dame, Wyoming and Colorado State.