Stuck on the sideline for disciplinary reasons, DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan could do nothing to help as California quickly fell behind by three touchdowns.
"They were chomping at the bit to get in," coach Jeff Tedford said. "They were prancing around on the sideline. And so when they finally got let loose, they were ready to roll."
And they made an immediate impact.
Jackson made an acrobatic 40-yard grab for Cal's first touchdown right after entering the game and Jordan had six catches for 148 yards and a score as the Bears rallied to beat Air Force 42-36 in the Armed Forces Bowl on Monday.
Ranked No. 2 in the nation in October before losing six of seven games, the comeback gave California (7-6) its sixth straight winning season.
Jackson, Jordan and leading tackler Thomas DeCoud were held out of the starting lineup and didn't play the first quarter because of unspecified violations of team rules that occurred before the team got to Fort Worth for the bowl.
While the starting receivers watched helplessly, Air Force (9-4) built a 21-0 lead after scoring twice in a 2-minute span early in the second quarter with help of a botched kickoff.
"The hard part about it was the score," said Jordan, who was about to finally get into the game with Jackson when the Falcons recovered the fumbled kickoff. "That just made me play harder. I haven't felt all year the way I did today about trying to prove a point and help the team."
Jackson caught three passes on his first possession, including the TD on which he turned and backpedaled a few steps in the end zone before twisting and diving to make the catch. He finished with five catches for 81 yards.
"It gave them a spark," Air Force linebacker Drew Fowler said. "As soon as they got in, it was a different story."
Jordan had an 18-TD in the third quarter, then a 52-yard catch to set up the go-ahead 1-yard run by Justin Forsett with 1:33 left in the third quarter. That made it 28-27 and the Bears led the rest of the way.
Forsett, playing his final collegiate game only about half-hour from his home with about 300 family and friends watching, ran for 140 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. He added a 21-yard TD run on Cal's next drive.
Forsett's first TD came after Air Force lost four-year starting quarterback Shaun Carney because of a right knee injury when his leg buckled awkwardly while being tackled near the Cal goal line.
Carney was running right on a third-and-goal keeper when he was hit head-on by two defenders and from the side by another defender. The quarterback immediately grabbed his right knee and didn't put any weight on his leg while being helped off the field.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said after the game Carney had ligament damage.
"It looks like both ACL and MCL," Calhoun said. "I'm sure in his mind and his heart he was going to try to find a way to back out there. It wasn't happening."
Carney had 15 carries for 108 yards rushing and a TD, a 1-yard keeper on the Falcons' opening drive of the game. He was 5-of-8 passing for 68 yards and a score.
Ryan Harrison kicked a 19-yard field goal on the next play to put the Falcons up 27-21, but Jordan's 52-yard catch came soon after.
Cal freshman Kevin Riley, who took over for Nate Longshore in the second quarter, was 16-for-19 passing for 269 yards and three TDs and ran for a score. Longshore had been hampered by a sprained right ankle and Tedford wanted to get Riley some action.
Riley came in on the same series as Jackson and Jordan, a four-play TD drive, and played the rest of the game.
"He kind of had the hot hand," Tedford said. "We felt like he had a pretty good feel for it, so we just left him in."
Air Force was then forced to punt for the first time, and the Bears drove 70 yards in 10 plays, Riley's 5-yard pass to Lavelle Hawkins making it 21-14.
Cal last had six straight winning seasons from 1947-52. The latest streak, which includes five consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in school history, has come since Tedford took over a team coming off a 1-10 season.
After Carney's 7-yard TD pass to Travis Dekker for a 14-0 lead capped a 65-yard drive, the Falcons kicked off into a stiff wind.
The high-arching kick bounced off a Bears player who apparently never saw the ball while he retreated to blocking formation. Aaron Kirchoff recovered at the Bears 40, and five plays later Jim Ollis, who ran for 101 yards on 16 carries, scored on an 8-yard run.
The Falcons, denied their first double-digit win season since 1998, won six of its last seven regular-season games under first-year coach Calhoun and played in its first bowl since 2002.
"We fired every piece of ammunition we had," Calhoun said. "We don't have anything left in the arsenal, that's for sure."