Being on both ends of the Hail Mary spectrum

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By EVAN BUDROVICH
College Contributor Network

The "Hail Mary Full of Dreams" can both cripple and salvage your team's hopes, and that was certainly the case in each of the past two home games for the USC Trojans.

Resting on the near sideline, covering the game with my point and shoot video camera for USC's Annenberg Television News, my presence was overwhelmed by the emotion that captivated the Coliseum as 6-foot-1 wide receiver Darreus Rogers leaped out of the building (quite literally) to snatch a touchdown just before halftime, propelling USC to an impressive 35-10 victory.

See, everybody hates being on the wrong end of the Hail Mary.

Oregon State players were in the right position to make the play, they just never expected to be completely boxed out by a slew of Trojan receivers -- clearing the way for Rogers to leap over the entire defense. And for once in his brief career, the sophomore wideout, who had been known around the locker room as the team's vertical Superman, finally imprinted his legacy as an elite-level athlete that could go up and snatch everything thrown in his direction.

USC's offense was abysmal, I mean desperately searching for life outside of a Su'a Cravens pick-six in the first quarter. So prayers were answered, gift wrapped by the trustworthy call of a coach who vowed not to let the clock run out, but instead throw a 50-yard bomb with just one second left in the half. For a quarterback who had started the season with no interceptions in his first four games, Cody Kessler took a chance as well, confident his go-to target could bring down the football in a crowded window.

And for Rogers, plagued by academic issues from high school that cost him the entire 2012 season, a breakout moment had transpired right before our eyes.



But as the college football gods would have it, the relative high of emotions would be short lived. Just seven days later, USC came out firing to exact revenge on its home turf against an Arizona State squad that had shellacked the Trojans in Tempe last season.

That was certainly the case from the start, and when Buck Allen sprinted 53 yards down the field to give USC a nine-point lead with just 3:02 to play, many of the 40,000 or so fans that had stuck around to the final whistle assumed the Trojans were well on their way to starting 2-0 in Pac-12 play.

As history showed the world, giving up on a late-night Pac-12 showdown would be utterly foolish.

Los Angeles native Mike Bercovici, who set a career-high with 510 passing yards and five touchdowns, pushed his Sun Devils right down the field in a one-play, 73-yard drive; the stuff of Madden Football for goodness sake. Then, after forcing a quick three-and-out defensively, Arizona State got the football back with under 30 seconds left at their own 28-yard line.

Observing the action from my birds eye view in the USC press box, a chilling sensation came rushing down my spine that a last-second play was about to erupt. Experiencing that same feeling just one week prior, that time in a more USC-friendly result, I pondered the possibility of ASU winning the game in a similar vein. Entrenched with this inward fear, I continued to broadcast the closing moments on KXSC Student Radio with hopeful optimism but serious doubt in the ability of a fading USC pass defense.

Arizona State wasted no time in carrying out that nightmare scenario. But it was the way in which they scored -- practically fooling USC into a wild, unorganized crime scene in the final seven seconds of the game -- that fueled an emotional fire storm on the Coliseum turf. Once the moment became reality and ASU had actually won on a Hail Mary of all things, a Pac-12 Championship, an impressive start to the season, and a new era filled with high expectations were all quickly dashed on a somewhat hopeful last-second heave to the end zone.

Jaelen Strong, who has now tortured USC in each of the last two seasons, sure made his lasting impact on the game by collecting 10 catches for 202 yards including that crippling last-second touchdown that sent the few but mighty Sun Devils' faithful into absolute pandemonium.

And that's where I have to, begrudgingly, give ASU credit for not quitting, not letting up and staying on the attack all the way to the final whistle. ASU's outstanding play design -- isolating Strong in the slot position and trailing the play as a pseudo decoy -- made sure the Trojans didn't really know what hit them as the college football gods delivered yet another unpredictable finish.

My radio broadcast of the final drive (fast forward to the 10:30 mark for the final play).

That final play, and the entire final six minutes for that matter, was like a giant pitchfork poking a gaping hole through the Trojans rarefied mystique, one that still has never won a Pac-12 South title.

But that's what we've come to expect in college football. Not to go all Charles Barkley on you, but when a team lives and dies by the final moment, things are bound to falter. The ecstasy of that breakout moment from a native of Los Angeles against Oregon State was trounced by the gut wrenching feeling of realizing the Trojans are not that mighty, just another team living on a prayer.


Evan Budrovich is a senior at the University of Southern California. He has a passion for the 49ers, Dodgers baseball and all things USC athletics. Follow him on Twitter: @evanbud
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