Jared Cooper

Coop’s Corner: All “Hail” Jaelen

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It’s the final moment, the last bit of desperation, that either ends in bitter defeat or jubilant celebration.

In football, a long forward pass to multiple receivers that is usually thrown in dire need or the final seconds of a game is called a “Hail Mary.” The likelihood of completing the pass is slim but when executed correctly, it can come as a complete shock.

The “Hail Mary” pass has been around for many years, but the name became more widespread during a 1975 NFL playoff game. In the final minute, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach, hit wide receiver Drew Pearson on a deep pass that led to the 17 to 14 victory. Prior to the play, Staubach stated that he closed his eyes and said a Hail Mary, which in the Catholic Church, is a prayer for the request of Blessed Virgin Mary.

There have been some memorable “Hail Mary” passes over the years. In 1984, the Heisman Trophy winner, Doug Flutie, threw a game-winning pass to beat the University of Miami in what is known as “Hail Flutie” and one of the most notable “Hail Mary” throws of all-time. Earlier this season, University of Arizona capped off an improbable comeback with a deep pass as time expired to beat the University of California on a deep throw that fans now call “Hill Mary.”

When the Arizona State Sun Devils traveled to Los Angeles to play the University of Southern California Trojans, they had one thing on their mind; to achieve victory. Coming off a loss to UCLA the previous week, a win against USC would help keep the Sun Devils in contention for the Pac-12 South title.

On Saturday night, ASU saw themselves down on the scoreboard to the Trojans near the end of the fourth quarter. After a 73-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Cameron Smith, ASU was faced with one last drive in the final minute to finish the unlikely comeback.

Starting from their own 28-yard line with 23 seconds remaining in the game, the Sun Devils, led by redshirt junior quarterback in his second start, Mike Bercovici, needed only three points to upset the sixteenth ranked Trojans. Bercovici first hit junior Gary Chambers for a 26-yard pass setting ASU up in better position to make a play. Chambers says, “I was able to catch it and get down on the ground in time for us to get another play in the drive. At that point, we were just doing everything we could to just get us to that end zone.”

Following the big play, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, head coach Todd Graham, and the rest of the team were left with a decision. Do they go for a quick play to the sidelines to set up Alex Garoutte for a long field goal or attempt the “Hail Mary” pass?

With seven seconds on the clock and the ball on the USC 46-yard line, Bercovici and the offense set-up in the shotgun formation. After taking several step back, the ball was launched in the air, hoping to have another Sun Devil on the other end to come down with it. With one final hope of desperation, redshirt junior wide receiver, Jaelen Strong, leaped up and caught was is now called the “Jael Mary.” The Sun Devils completed the unbelievable comeback, making it the first win at USC since 1999.

Whether you were watching the game in-person or on a television, the electricity in the stadium vanished as Strong sealed the lid on victory. “USC fans were all happy and stuff, and then you see him (Jaelen) come down and it’s like, yup, here we go,” said Chambers.

Oct. 7, 2014 - Wide Receivers coach, DelVaughn Alexander (cq.), works with sophomore wide receiver Cameron Smith (cq.) at practice in Tempe, Ariz. Tuesday morning. Photo by Jared Cooper

DelVaughn Alexander, an assistant coach and wide receivers coach for the Sun Devils, was extremely proud of his entire group for the role that they played in the game. Alexander stated, “I’m proud that the guys were able to keep their focus through four quarters and that the guys were able to remember what was number two on our keys to victory which was attack the ball.”

The win was a little more sweet for Alexander as he was a former Trojan himself, graduating from there with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and history, as well as being a player and member of the coaching staff in 1995. Furthermore, like many other Sun Devils on the roster, Alexander is a native of southern California. “It’s a great feeling. It can be distracting for a coach, an alumni,” said Alexander.

The “Hail Mary” pass is a play that is practiced a lot by ASU. “We run through every single situation that could possibly happen in the game every time we come out here,” said Chambers. However, with every “Hail Mary,” there is always a little bit of luck that is involved. “It’s determination, will,” said Chambers, “But it’s definitely not all luck. We practice it a lot so we make sure that we know where everybody goes and knows what to do. At the point, it’s just making a play, whoever wants it more.”

The Sun Devils won on a “Hail Mary” back in 2009 against University of Washington from former quarterback Danny Sullivan. Ironically, Steve Sarkisian, the current head coach at USC, was also the head coach of Washington when they lost to ASU in 2009.

Now that ASU has had time to soak in the dramatic win, they have been able to reflect on the incredible achievement. Although the Sun Devils have had miracles in the past, this victory might go down as one of the greatest in school history. For Alexander, this win is up there as one of his favorites. “That one is pretty special. I’ve been on the other end of some ‘hail mary’s’ and late heroics but that’s the first time I’ve had a ‘hail mary’ be successful for us,” stated Alexander.

With ASU now in the thick of their schedule and an upcoming bye week, the Sun Devils get some much needed rest and extra preparation for their next opponent, the Stanford Cardinal. ASU lost to Stanford last year twice, once in Palo Alto and the other at Sun Devil Stadium for the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Sun Devils will look to seek revenge against the Cardinal next week at home.

About Jared Cooper

Jared Cooper

Jared is an Intern this season for ASU Devils Den. He is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications studying Broadcast Journalism with a focus in sports broadcasting. In addition to interning at ASU Devils Den, he works in the Marketing Department for the Phoenix Suns. Jared is a former Sparky the Sun Devil, ASU's mascot, from 2011 to 2013.

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