ASU stuns No. 16 USC with thrilling 'Jael Mary' in 38-34 win

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LOS ANGELES -- That's why they play all 60 minutes.

By all accounts, USC had secured a victory over division rival Arizona State when Buck Allen ran 53 yards for a touchdown that gave the Trojans a 34-25 lead with just 3:04 left in the game. The Sun Devils, without any timeouts left, appeared headed for a second-straight conference loss.

Fast forward just a few minutes later, and the Sun Devils were storming the field, victorious after Jaelen Strong hauled in a 46-yard Hail Mary that capped a miraculous comeback victory.

"Words can't express what that felt like," said ASU head coach Todd Graham after the game.

"When you go up at the end of the game like that with three minutes left, it's never over," said USC head coach Steve Sarkisian. "You learn the hard way in games like this."

It was an improbable win that may have saved ASU's season following last week's 62-27 home loss to UCLA.

The night belonged to ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici, who made the most of his homecoming to his Los Angeles-area hometown. Making his second career start, Bercovici threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns against a USC defense that hadn't surrendered a scoring pass all season long. 

"For this team, this is a win and another step closer to the Rose Bowl," Bercovici said. "I can't wait to see my mom, dad, sister, and girlfriend. It's going to be amazing."

Amazed, on both ends of the spectrum, is how the crowd of 70,115 felt after the game.

Both defenses were stout early on, but the same could not be said for ASU's special teams. For the second week in a row, the Sun Devils allowed a return touchdown, this time a 53-yard punt return score by Nelson Agholor that put USC up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.

ASU's offense under Bercovici finally found a rhythm in the second quarter, and Bercovici found Strong for a four-yard touchdown to cap an eight-play drive and tie the game.

That duo struck again just minutes later, following a defensive stand and turnover on downs that gave ASU the ball at their 23-yard line. On the ensuing play, Bercovici found a wide open Strong down the left sideline for a 77-yard score. ASU then used a trick play, with Bercovici hitting tight end Kody Kohl for a two-point conversion, to gain a 15-14 lead.

The Trojans, however, capped the first half with a 10-point run to head into the break with a 17-15 lead.

Defensive dominance reasserted itself in the third quarter, with each team limited to a field goal. That set up the wild final quarter with USC holding a 20-18 edge.

USC began the quarter on the march, and from a first and goal from the ASU eight-yard line, quarterback Cody Kessler broke several Sun Devil tackles on his way to the endzone. 

The 27-18 Trojan lead would remain intact until there was just under four minutes left on the clock.

With their backs in a corner after USC downed a punt at the ASU two-yard line, Bercovici led ASU 98 yards in 10 plays, the last 21 yards of which came in the form of a touchdown pass to D.J. Foster. ASU attempted an on-side kick, but it was unsuccessful.

Now trailing 27-25 with 3:53 left and no timeouts, ASU's defense looked to shake off a very shaky performance in the fourth quarter by getting a key stop.

They did not.

On USC's second play of that drive, Allen burst through the line and ran for the apparent back-breaking touchdown.

ASU needed a few miracles, and the first came immediately. Starting the next drive at their 27-yard line, Bercovici threw a dart to the right sideline and found Cam Smith. The Trojan defender had jumped attempting an interception but missed, and that left the sideline wide open for the speedy Sun Devil who ran for the 73-yard touchdown.

Sparky had a pulse.

The Sun Devil defense then got the three-and-out they had needed. On fourth and 12, USC elected to have Kessler pooch punt for the third time in the game. It was a poor kick, going just 18 yards and out of bounds, but it was born of necessity.

"Our starting long snapper was out with a concussion," Sarkisian said. "We didn't feel great about the operation of our normal punt team. We went with a spread punt with Cody, and we felt that gave us the best chance."

ASU had 72 yards to go and just 23 seconds in which to do it. 

Bercovici's first pass was incomplete, but he then found Gary Chambers for a 26-yard gain to the USC 46. By the time ASU managed to spike the ball, there were seven seconds left.

"With seven seconds, you don't have a lot of time to think," said Graham. "You're going off your script and sticking to the plan."

ASU called for the prayer, and the football gods answered.

"There were three levels of guys," Bercovici said of his receivers on the play. "But the most important part of that play was (right tackle) Tyler Sulka and him stopping the edge rusher. They know we're not running the ball, so they're coming nice and heavy, but he did such a great job to give me the extra second to slide right and let it rip."

Bercovici took the snap, stepped up, and unleashed the pass.

"I've never been able to throw a Hail Mary before," said Bercovici. "To be honest, I didn't think I threw it very well. It looked like a duck, but my god, I didn't know what happened."

What happened was what is now called the "Jael Mary."

Strong ran in from the right, jumped in front of three USC defenders, and landed in the history books.

"I saw the ball in the air and the first thing I thought was 'I'm going to get this.' 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."

"Great players make great plays, and that's what happened," said Graham. "If you throw it to Jaelen Strong, you have a chance."

Strong finished the night with 10 catches for 212 yards and three scores.

"That was the most unbelievable night I've had in coaching," said Graham. "When he caught that ball, my heart stopped. There was never any give up of quit in that them."

The Sun Devils improve to 4-1 and 2-1 in conference play with a bye week before a home date against Stanford on Oct. 18, in which starting quarterback Taylor Kelly figures to return from injury.

The win now has ASU, the defending Pac-12 South champions, back in the division race. However, before moving on to the tough road ahead, ASU will savor this victory.

"To win like that on the last play, I don't know if it gets any better than that," said Graham.

"That was awesome