(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Arizona State and Oregon combined to run 177 offensive plays, and yet the biggest question mark comes from the final play call that ended in Arrion Springs picking off Mike Bercovici in the end zone. This capped off a 61-55 triple-overtime thriller in Sun Devil Stadium.
“We had a play where it was a simple slant and a fade, and I decided to throw a slant,” Bercovici said. “As a quarterback it was on me and you can’t make that mistake. I think the second down we had a couple more lives ahead of us, and it’s going to hurt, but we’re moving on.”
And yet that throw and subsequent walk-off interception were the end-product of a game that saw a myriad of dropped touchdown passes, ill-advised throws, missed sacks and blown coverages on both sides of the ball.
In a game that was tied at 17 with 11:39 to go in the third quarter, the floodgates opened up as wide as anybody can imagine. The Ducks and the Sun Devils traded explosive plays that had ASU up 41-34 with 7:49 remaining in the fourth quarter following a play-action pass that resulted in Bercovici finding redshirt junior Kody Kohl in the end zone.
ASU seemed to have the game remotely wrapped up with 23 seconds remaining and Oregon left with just one more shot on fourth-and-goal. In fact, ASU seemed to have the game in its hands with about 17 seconds on the clock when senior quarterback Vernon Adams was flushed from the pocket where ASU sacked the slippery Adams five times.
But then ASU didn’t have the game in its hands.
A desperate chuck from Adams somehow found the hands of redshirt junior wide receiver Dwayne Stanford, who collided with several players before landing in what the referees interpreted as inbounds.
Suddenly the game was headed to overtime.
“I was just trying to scramble around, just trying to buy time and find someone open,” Adams said of the play. “When I was scrambling (one) way, everybody started going (the other) way, and the wind stayed over here. I saw him and just threw it. It was an awesome catch by him.”
Oregon opened the first period of free football with Adams finding Stanford on a short comeback that Stanford took to the house, but ASU would answer with a 2-yard toss to redshirt junior wide receiver Tim White.
Bercovici struck first in the second overtime with an 18-yard touchdown run, but Oregon sophomore Royce Freeman punched it in from the 1-yard line to extend the game. It appeared as if Adams had got in on a quick scramble a play earlier, but that call was reversed, unlike the game-winning touchdown for Oregon.
In triple overtime, Adams found redshirt junior wide receiver Bralon Addison in the back of the endzone for an apparent touchdown catch. Replays in the stadium appeared to show Addison’s toe out of bounds as he controlled the catch, but the evidence was not sufficient enough for the call to be reversed.
Alas, ASU regained life when the Sun Devils sacked Adams on the required two-point conversion attempt, and ASU suddenly could come away with a win if it scored and converted.
That obviously did not happen, and instead of booming roars from a mostly packed Sun Devil Stadium, the silence was deafening save for a few sections of delirious Oregon supporters.
The interception was the Bercovici’s second, but obviously, this one hurt quite a bit more.
“I told myself to make sure the ball gets completed or thrown away,” Bercovici said. “It’s on me at the end of the game putting the ball in jeopardy like that. I couldn’t say enough about what our offense and defense and special teams did tonight.”
The most peculiar portion surrounding the game-ending interception was ASU’s decision to not run the ball despite sophomore running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage carving Oregon’s defense for 262 yards on 31 carries (8.45 per carry).
In fact, the duo didn’t touch the ball once in the overtime periods.
“I can’t fault anything that the offense did,” Graham said. “Obviously, we talk about overtime, the team that runs the ball in overtime wins. I’m not going to second guess anything they (the offense) did because they deserved to win. We played undisciplined (on defense).”
To add to the confusion of the loss for the Sun Devils, statistically, they dominated Oregon. ASU racked up 742 yards of total offense and kept the Pac-12’s leading rusher, Freeman, bottled up for the majority of the night. Outside of Freeman’s 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, the sophomore managed just 48 yards on 14 attempts and was strangely absent for portions of the game.
However, the Sun Devils committed nine penalties including three false starts and two plays on defense after the play. Sophomore defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood was flagged for a personal foul and redshirt senior safety Jordan Simone was penalized for a late hit out of bounds.
“Lots of regrets in that game,” Graham said. “But the biggest thing is the penalties, those type things. I mean, that is a reflection of our discipline. That can’t happen”
The end result certainly undermines any of the success ASU had on offense, but that success isn’t to be ignored. Bercovici tossed five touchdowns and the offense had rhythm and flow throughout the second half and overtime, but the apparent decision to not use Richard and Ballage was puzzling.
To argue that this game was won or lost on a single play would be a convuluted and misguided take. The game was littered with errors.
The normally reliable junior kicker Zane Gonzalez missed his first three field goal attempts, including a chip shot from 26 yards.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien dropped an early touchdown chance in the first half.
Oregon’s redshirt sophomore wide receiver Darren Carrington dropped a surefire touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
But naturally, the last play stands out to the spectators, fans and those in the stadium. From a coach’s point of view, it never comes down to one moment.
“There’s a whole bunch of plays that were the difference in the game,” Graham said. “We didn’t play very good defensively. Probably a lot of it had to do with their (Oregon’s) guys. They got pretty good guys.”
For as well as ASU played on offense, Oregon had its way as well. The Ducks gained 501 yards of total offense, and Adams himself went 23-for-40 for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Adams gave ASU fits in trying to bring him down, and the shifty quarterback made the Sun Devils pay when they failed to bring him down, completing four passes of at least 25 yards.
“It’s really frustrating,” Simone said. “As a defense, we never want to give up anything like that — too many critical errors and things that we can control. I always say, ‘We have to do what we’re coached to do at the end of the day.’ Sometimes we didn’t.
The Sun Devils sit at 4-4 on the season with four games remaining. Two wins means becoming bowl eligible, but the fact that that is a topic is shocking considering the championship implications and expectations the Sun Devils had and put on themselves coming into the season. Yet as one could imagine, ASU is sticking to its program-wide guns in how it views the season.
“Our guys played with an amazing passion tonight,” Simone said. “All the snaps that we played, everyone just gave it their all. It sucks to come up short, but I wouldn’t trade anyone on this team for anybody else in the country. I love these guys and I’m proud to be a Sun Devil.”
The quest for bowl eligibility begins with a trip up to Pullman to take on Washington State, but the ramifications from this classic will be felt well beyond the next 10 days until then.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org