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Hail (Mary) falls on USC this time in 38-34 loss to Arizona State

Hail (Mary) falls on USC this time in 38-34 loss to Arizona State
Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici (on ground) is about to be engulfed by teammates after throwing a 46-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game to beat USC, 38-34, on Saturday night at the Coliseum. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC coaches emerged from the Coliseum locker room Saturday night still wearing looks of shock and disbelief.

USC went into its game against Arizona State having not surrendered a touchdown pass.

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That streak ended — and Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici provided an exclamation point.

Bercovici burned the Trojans for five touchdowns, including a 46-yard Hail Mary to receiver Jaelen Strong on the final play to send USC to a crushing 38-34 defeat.

Several players left the field shouting in expletive-laced frustration.

"It's never over," USC Coach Steve Sarkisian said after the game. "You learn the hard way in games like this."

A week after defeating Oregon State with the help of a Hail Mary touchdown pass before halftime, USC gave one up as time expired and dropped to 3-2 overall, 2-1 in Pac-12 Conference play.

"I don't know if it gets any better than that," Arizona State Coach Todd Graham said of winning on the final play. "That was awesome."

Bercovici, from Woodland Hills Taft High, was playing in place of injured starter Taylor Kelly for the second consecutive game.

In last week's defeat against UCLA, Bercovici passed for 488 yards and three touchdowns, but had two passes intercepted.

He apparently learned to eliminate mistakes.

The fourth-year junior shredded the Trojans, completing 27 of 45 passes for 510 yards. Strong caught 10 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns, the last one the biggest.

"It leaves us with a sick feeling in our gut," Sarkisian said of the loss.

The Trojans scored at the end of the first half against Oregon State on a Hail Mary from quarterback Cody Kessler to receiver Darreus Rogers. USC worked on the play again this week in practice, Sarkisian said.

"I'm sure Arizona State did too," he said, "and they made the play."

Arizona State's Hail Mary play wiped out a USC effort that included Nelson Agholor's punt return for a touchdown, tailback Javorius Allen's two touchdowns, Kessler's scramble for a touchdown and Andre Heidari's two field goals.

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In a week when four of college football's top six ranked teams suffered losses, USC did not look like a team ready to ascend into top-10 territory.

The offense was sluggish most of the game and the defense could not stop Bercovici.

But despite game-time temperatures in the 90s, the Trojans appeared on their way to playing a huge Pac-12 South game at unbeaten Arizona.

After upsetting second-ranked Oregon on Thursday night, the Wildcats will break into the top 20 Sunday.

USC, which led, 17-15, at halftime and 34-25 with three minutes left, will no doubt drop out.

Despite four dropped passes in the first half, Kessler completed 28 of 45 for 273 yards.

With long snapper Zach Smith out of the game because of a concussion, Kessler also punted four times. The last one gave Arizona State the ball at its own 28 with 23 seconds left with no timeouts remaining.

USC appeared to have the game in hand when Kessler bulldozed his way across the goal line for a 27-18 lead early in the fourth quarter.

But Bercovici pulled the Sun Devils with 27-25 with a touchdown pass to running back D.J. Foster.

USC's Randall Telfer recovered an onside kick and Allen appeared to seal the victory with a 53-yard dash to the end zone, giving the Trojans a 34-25 lead.

But Arizona State answered with a 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from Bercovici to Cameron Smith.

USC recovered another onside kick, but the possession ended with another Kessler punt.Then came the Hail Mary.

USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said players ran onto the field before the play with two scenarios and instructions to look to the sideline for the call.

"Coaches called one play and then they switched it," safety Gerald Bowman said. "I don't think everyone knew the call was switched. I don't think everyone was on the same page."

Bercovici said the pass was "a little bit of a prayer."

"I didn't think I got it that far," he said. "It looked a little bit of duck. But I needed to give us a chance and who else but Jaelen Strong comes up with it."

Strong ran down the field and saw the ball in the air.

"At first I thought, 'I don't know if I can get it,'" he said. "But I put my head down and kept running and got it."

Afterward, as Sarkisian walked up the ramp outside the locker room, he said the Trojans would come back.

"These are the moments that define us as men and how we respond is going to be huge," he said. "I expect us to respond great."

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