ASU tops USC on last-second Hail Mary

first_imgIn a Saturday evening at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum marked by sloppy play and good fortune for USC, the Trojans’ luck ran out as time expired in the fourth quarter. With less than three minutes remaining in the game, Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici scored a quick touchdown, got the ball back with 23 seconds remaining and threw a Hail Mary pass as time expired to pull out a shocking upset of the No. 16 USC Trojans, 38-34, before a stunned crowd of more than 70,000.Jael Mary · Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici connected with wide receiver Jaelen Strong (21) on a 47-yard Hail Mary as time expired on Saturday night. Strong finished with 202 receiving yards and three touchdowns in ASU’s 38-34 win, its first at the Coliseum since 1999. – Tony Zhou | Daily TrojanWith the game favoring the Trojans 34-32 and seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Bercovici launched the ball 46 yards into a sea of cardinal-clad USC defenders and essentially prayed that his receiver came down with the ball. His prayer was answered — ASU wide receiver Jaelen Strong caught the ball right outside the end zone and slipped past a dumbstruck group of USC defenders into the end zone.“It was an awkward Hail Mary,” said USC head coach Steve Sarkisian. “The ball floated back to the middle of the field and it was a heck of a play by [Strong] tracking the ball and making the play on it.”For Bercovici, it was a triumphant bounce-back after a rough outing against UCLA last week, where the second-string quarterback managed 488 yards through the air but fumbled the ball and threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 95 yards for a touchdown. Bercovici’s efforts come after the Sun Devils suffered a huge blow with the loss of starting quarterback Taylor Kelly to injury.After their loss to UCLA last week, the Sun Devils fell out of the national rankings and the national playoff conversation. ASU head coach Todd Graham, however, kept faith in his second-string quarterback — and credited his talented backup signal caller for staying with the program.“For all those young kids out there, everyone tells [backup quarterbacks] to transfer or quit because you’re not getting to play,” Graham said. “Look at Mike Bercovici. He didn’t quit. He chose to stay a Sun Devil. He would’ve missed out on the greatest moment of his football career if he had transferred. I’m so proud of him.”What eventually became Bercovici’s finest moment thus far as a Sun Devil actually began as the quarterback’s less-than-perfect throw.“I’ve never been able to throw a Hail Mary before,” Bercovici said. “I didn’t think I threw it well. It looked like a duck. But my God, I didn’t know what happened, to be honest.”Bercovici didn’t throw too many ducks en route to 510 yards and five touchdowns, but those numbers were also due in large part to the efforts of Strong, who hauled in 10 receptions for 202 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning Hail Mary.“I saw the ball in the air, and the first thing I thought was, ‘I’m going to get this,’” Strong said. “At first I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can get to it,’ but I put my head down and kept running and got it.”Strong was also complimentary of his teammates, eschewing any notion that he had won the game by himself.“If [ASU running back D.J. Foster] doesn’t make that TD, we don’t have that chance. If [ASU wide receiver Cameron Smith] doesn’t make that TD, we don’t have that chance. If [ASU wide receiver Gary Chambers] doesn’t make that big play to set us up for the Hail Mary, we don’t have that chance,” Strong said.For USC, it will be the “what ifs” that torture them after Saturday’s game. The game was characterized by missed opportunities for both teams. Bercovici overthrew two would-be touchdowns to Foster and Strong, the latter on a post route with virtually no Trojan defender ahead of him. USC’s defense looked confused on the last play of the game, and Sarkisian admitted in a post-game press conference that the Trojans were attempting to prepare for both a Hail Mary or a short completion and field goal situation, despite there being seven seconds remaining in the game and ASU having exhausted all of its time outs. The Hail Mary wasn’t USC’s only missed opportunity: Earlier in the game, redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler had a drive cut short and missed out on a potential touchdown both due to dropped passes from sophomore wide receiver Darreus Rogers.On the defensive side of the ball, the Trojans were effective against the run, holding Foster and the rest of the Sun Devil rushing attack to 31 total yards. USC’s game plan appeared to dare ASU’s fledgling backup quarterback to attack through the air, and Bercovici made the Trojans’ secondary pay.The Trojans were not without some lucky breaks of their own: USC’s drive in the second quarter was assisted by some curious refereeing. Redshirt junior punter Kris Albarado fell on his own after a kick on fourth down and managed to get a penalty against ASU to extend a drive that would eventually lead to a touchdown from redshirt junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen. That drive shifted the game’s momentum in favor of the Trojans, who would have narrowly escaped with the victory if not for ASU’s last second touchdown.Allen turned in another big performance, despite getting off to a slow start. The starting tailback had 38 yards on 14 carries for a subpar 2.7 yards per carry average at the half, but quickly turned things around to finish with 229 total yards from scrimmage (143 rushing yards and 86 yards receiving) and two rushing touchdowns.Kessler attempted 28 passes by halftime, and finished the game having completed 28 of his career-high 45 attempts for 273 yards and a season-low 62 percent completion percentage. No USC receiver broke 100 yards receiving, as ASU dropped multiple defenders into coverage schemes designed to prevent big plays. The Trojans didn’t help their own cause much, as penalties were again an issue for USC — the Trojans racked up 9 total infractions for 60 yards.The Trojans will have to regroup quickly as they head out to Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, Oct. 11 to face the Wildcats, who themselves are coming off a thrilling upset of Oregon on Thursday. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN2.last_img read more