BERKELEY, Calif. - Kyle Boller would be wise to take a lesson from Chance Harridge. When a quarterback's teammates seem incapable of doing anything right, it's probably a good idea to take matters into your own hands.
Harridge rushed for a career-high 124 yards and three touchdowns, and Jeff Overstreet tipped away Boller's 2-point conversion pass attempt with 31 seconds left as Air Force beat No. 23 California 23-21 Saturday.
En route to a frantic finish that secured their seventh 3-0 start under coach Fisher DeBerry and finally stopped Cal's improbable unbeaten run into the national rankings, the Falcons rushed for 295 yards.
Harridge, the latest in Air Force's lineage of slippery option quarterbacks, scored three times in the final 19 minutes as the Falcons wore down the Golden Bears' defense for a hard-earned victory.
"We started running right at them," Harridge said. "We quit running wide, and we just ran the triple option right at them. They couldn't stop us."
Harridge was too modest: His rushing was responsible for almost every important Air Force gain in a wild fourth quarter, and it might have propelled the Falcons into the rankings.
"I have no concern where we're ranked right now," DeBerry said. "I'll be very concerned where we're ranked in November."
When Overstreet made his outstanding diving play after a 70-yard Cal TD drive, the Falcons emerged with their second victory over a BCS conference team this season, following a 52-3 win over Northwestern.
The Golden Bears (3-1) couldn't get into the end zone until the final minute. Many factors played a role, but the most glaring was a series of dropped passes that short-circuited much of what Boller tried to do.
"(Drops) plagued us significantly," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who lost for the first time in his rookie season. "I have confidence in our guys that it won't happen again. There's no need to panic. ... I thought our defense played well, but you're never going to stop that offense."
Harridge gave Air Force its first lead at 16-15 on a 2-yard TD run with 7:16 to play. He scored again on a 13-yard run with 1:59 left, silencing an unusually raucous Memorial Stadium crowd.
Boller threw again for the 2-point conversion, but Overstreet dove to flick the pass away from Joe Igber. The Falcons celebrated wildly on the sideline, and after time ran out, they gathered in a corner of the stadium to cheer along with their small fan contingent.
"I'll probably have a nightmare about it over and over," Boller said. "Where I was standing, I could just see the guy's hand coming in to knock it out. It was a split-second thing. An instant earlier or later, and we're in overtime."
Mark Jensen kicked a school-record five field goals for the Golden Bears.
"We did a tremendous job keeping them out of the end zone," DeBerry said. "They were averaging 50 points a game. Their offense never went away."
Harridge was the Falcons' only consistent threat, but he was nearly impossible to handle. Besides his ducking and dodging on the field, he repeatedly exhorted his defensive teammates from the sideline, then led the celebration when the victory was assured.
Boller completed just 13 of 37 passes for 216 yards. The senior quarterback was inconsistent, but he was victimized by an infuriating series of drops - at least 12, according to most unofficial counts - that awakened memories of last season's 1-10 team.
On the final drive, Ward - Boller's friend and favorite target - flubbed a 32-yard pass that hit him in stride at the goal line, and he couldn't hold on to a high pass in the end zone with 36 seconds left. Boller still converted a fourth-and-10, then later found Makonnen in the corner for a score.
"He came up to us and said he was going to keep throwing to us," Makonnen said. "When he does that, you know he's a good leader."
The close, exciting loss only slightly dampened the good feelings around the Cal program these days. With a 46-22 win at Michigan State last week, the Golden Bears jumped into the national rankings for the first time since 1996.
Cal hasn't had a winning season since 1993, but its fans are excited about Tedford's team. An enthusiastic crowd of 31,816 filled two-thirds of Memorial Stadium, where a giant video replay screen was installed for the game.
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer