Jael-Mary: Bercovici's last-second touchdown pass shocks No. 16 USC

Sophomore wide receiver Cammeron Smith celebrates as redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong catches the game winning touchdown against USC on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. The Sun Devils beat the Trojans on a Hail Mary as time expired to win 38-34. (Photo by Alexis Macklin) Sophomore wide receiver Cammeron Smith celebrates as redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong catches the game winning touchdown against USC on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. The Sun Devils beat the Trojans on a Hail Mary as time expired to win 38-34. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

LOS ANGELES — A homecoming in a game like this couldn't have ended any other way.

After a devastating 62-27 home loss to UCLA last Thursday, it would have been difficult for even the most optimistic amongst the Sun Devil faithful to dream up a game-ending scenario like this one.

Redshirt junior quarterback Mike Bercovici, the man of the moment, went  27-45, throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns.

A player with lesser character might not have even stuck around to seize this chance. But "Berco," as he has become affectionately known, left no doubt that he wanted to be wearing maroon and gold under the lights on a picturesque night in southern California.

"When I closed my eyes and envisioned these types of moments, I had a fork on my helmet," Bercovici said.


Trailing 34-25 with three minutes left in the game, it didn't seem conceivable that ASU had the wherewithal to rally back. The defense was gassed, the special teams play more closely resembled that of a Kevin Hart skit at the Nokia Theatre than a competent punt or punt return unit.

Then Bercovici found a wide-open Cameron Smith, who streaked to the end zone virtually alone on the near sideline for a 73-yard score, his second touchdown pass of the night that totaled in excess of 70 yards.

It defies the laws of physics to attempt to rewind or pause instances in time. In college football, coaches are allowed three timeouts per half.

Most ASU fans are quick to acknowledge that Coach Todd Graham is notorious for wasting these precious assets at seemingly random times and with obnoxious frequency.

Fittingly, in true Graham fashion, he'd done so again, burning two timeouts in a span of four seconds, presumably to correct a defensive misalignment.

Eager to praise his star for single-handedly bailing out Graham's questionable coaching decisions, he and the rest of the Sun Devil locker room were able to take collective sigh of relief, and the outspoken head coach even took the liberty to muse about drinking a Diet Coke in his opening remarks in the postgame press conference.

"We talked about it in the locker room, growing up as a little boy, playing football out in the pasture," Graham said. "We reflected on everybody's path here, and to come to the Coliseum, boy, I don't know if it gets any better than that."

But Bercovici, cool as he'd ever been in the pocket, efficient, crisp, and confident, delivered in the clutch. With the game essentially out of reach and a delirious Coliseum crowd under the assumption that the Trojans finally eradicated the plague that was that pesky Bercovici-led, Mike Norvell-orchestrated offense  the starter who'd endured a year on the sideline after having the starting job snatched right out from under him   embraced the pressure.

A 26-yard strike to unheralded junior wide receiver Gary Chambers helped set up the final play, with the clock running and and the ball on the USC 46. What followed was a scene straight from Hollywood lore.

"Great players make great plays," Graham said. "We knew we had to get a ball up and get it close."

It was a matter of sheer human will and determination that enabled Bercovici, the Calabasas, California native, to do what only an elite few athletes on the planet have ever had the courage to do in the most dire of circumstances: he froze time.

"In a meeting last night, we closed our eyes and visualized this happening," Graham said. "That tells you about the great power of what you're able to believe in your heart, visualize in your mind, and then see it happen on the field."

The play was an act so desperate, and followed by an outcome so improbable, that a stunned USC locker room had trouble describing what actually happened once Bercovici took the snap from the shotgun, even when it was most certain that the ball was headed toward the one player whom Bercovici knew was his best weapon from the outset: redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong.

"It was a little bit of a prayer, to be honest," Bercovici said. "I didn't think I got it that far."

With plenty of time, and a heave that had the crowd of 70,015 in attendance collectively holding their breath, suddenly, after the decibel levels from the Trojan student section had about reached their peak, for an instant there was silence, as the USC secondary realized it had found a way to leave college football's most dynamic receiver open in the end zone.

"I hate to say it's luck," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I know that we were in double coverage on Strong and that left (junior cornerback Kevon Seymour) isolated."

Apparently overwhelmed with emotion, Bercovici collapsed to the turf after his release.

"My body started cramping and I immediately fell to the floor," he said. " It was an indescribable feeling. I had people telling me to get up, but all I wanted to do was go upstairs and see my mom."

A hero's welcome in Tempe awaits for the kid from Calabasas who conquered the Coliseum.

 Reach the assistant sports editor at smodrich@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @StefanJModrich

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