‘Hail Mary’ fails, but ASU beats Utah with field goal in OT

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                </div>  Todd Graham was looking for more than a win last night when the Arizona State football coach sent his back-up quarterback onto the field for the final play in […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Todd Graham was looking for more than a win last night when the Arizona State football coach sent his back-up quarterback onto the field for the final play in regulation time against Utah.

You can’t tell me he wasn’t looking for a movie deal.

Here’s how the script was shaping up:

ASU was trailing the Utes by three points until starting quarterback Taylor Kelly engineered a 61-yard drive in the fourth quarter that gave Zane Gonzalez a chance to kick a 30-yard field goal to tie the game up.  After holding off Utah’s offense for its last series, the Sun Devils had one last chance to score, but it was a long shot and Graham decided to send Mike Bercovici onto the field to attempt a ‘Hail Mary’ heave.

His pass was intercepted and the game went into overtime, with ASU pulling out the 19-16 win on another Gonzalez field goal, his fourth of the night on five attempts.

But the significance of Graham’s desperation move to call on his back-up QB to fling the team’s last hope for victory was obvious to Sun Devils followers.  It was Bercovici that attempted – and completed – a 46-yard Hail Mary pass that beat USC as time ran out in that Oct. 4 game.  At the time, he was filling in as the starter while Taylor rehabbed from a foot injury.

But this time, he was called upon to make lightning strike twice.  That was his only job of the night.  And if he had succeeded, this feat would have gone down in Arizona State football lore – a distinction he probably already earned with the last one.

While he wasn’t able to pull off another miracle finish, there was still more to come that will at least make this game memorable for the near future – even if it won’t qualify for a made-for-tv movie.

Utah got the ball as overtime got underway and was able to set up its kicker, Andy Phillips, with a chip shot for the win.  Phillips is a sophomore, but he hadn’t missed in the last 12 tries. The kid had been dead-on accurate of late and it looked like the Utes would put this one in the win column.

But his 35-yard attempt missed the mark.  So the refs gave him another try.

Actually, his head coach, Kyle Whittingham, called a time-out when he saw the play clock running out of time. Phillips would get another try.

The second attempt, sabotaged by a shifting wind, also failed.  ASU lived to run another set of plays.

“It was just a misjudgement on my part,” Phillips explained to the media after the game.  “The wind was going right to left, so I played the first one right, but coach had called the timeout.  I thought that the wind didn’t push too much, so I would play the next one more to the left.  The wind caught ahold of it; I should have gone with my instinct.”

Gonzalez didn’t make that mistake.  After a drive on the next possession that was fueled by consecutive four-yard rushes by freshman tailback Demario Richard, the sophomore kicker from Deer Park, Tex., nailed a 19-yarder for the win.

Graham said afterward that he was more concerned about the snap than the kick.  “I was not worried about Zane,” he said.  “He just has one of those personalities that gives you a lot of confidence in him.  If he lines up right, he will make the field goal.  The only time he misses is when there is a bad snap.”

Kelly finished the game with 205 yards passing on 18-for-32 attempts in his first home start since his Sept. 13 injury in the Colorado game.  Jaelen Strong, the redshirt junior wide receiver who caught the Hail Mary pass against USC, had five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

The Sun Devil offense outgained the Utes, 444 to 241 yards; 255 of those ASU yards came in the first half.  This was the 11th consecutive win over Utah as the Devils have not lost a home game to Utah since 1976.  But this was the first time the two teams met when each was nationally-ranked, ASU at No. 14 and Utah at No. 18.

It was also the first overtime game for Graham since becoming the ASU head coach in December of 2011, although he has narrowly avoided it on more than one occasion. “When you win close games, it makes you better,” he said in last night’s presser after the game.  “When we beat Wisconsin last year, that game really helped us.  It builds character and belief.  It helps the team tremendously down the line because, when you win an overtime game, it helps you win the next overtime game.

“You cannot be a champion without winning the close games.”

And right now, his team is on its way to defending the Pac-12 South Division championship it won last year.  The win over Utah solidifies ASU’s hold on first place in the South, at 5-1 the only one-loss team left in the division.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)