Pac-12 After Dark reminiscing: The Jael Mary and other best Arizona school moments

Aug 21, 2023, 12:45 PM

Jaelen Strong catches a Hail Mary, known as the Jael Mary, as time expires to help ASU beat USC...

Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Jaelen Strong (21) catches the game winning touchdown as time expires during the NCAA football game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

According to the X archives, the social media site formerly known as Twitter produced only a literal handful of the #Pac12AfterDark hashtags from sports fans before mid-October 2014.

But something happened on the social media platform that month around the Pac-12, which was then a highly competitive and usually exciting conference in college football.

Those football games, like they are now, were mostly happening late at night.

A flurry of crazy games near the start of the 2014 football season led to the Pac-12 Network taking the hashtag mainstream. The Sun Devils and Wildcats had direct involvement in that.

Ever since then, any wild late-night game has been categorized as Pac-12 After Dark.

The 2023 season could be one last wild ride for the conference, which expanded to 12 teams in 2011 with the additions of Utah and Colorado. The Pac-12 has a number of returning quarterbacks, a returning Heisman winner and enough depth behind five squads in the preseason top 25 as voted on by The Associated Press.

Then it’ll break apart as we know it, if not dissolve entirely.

It’s Week 0 with the favorite USC Trojans set to kick off the season against San Jose State on Saturday.

But before 2023’s final Pac-12 go-around commences, let’s look back at that fateful October 2014, the crazy games before it that might’ve led to the aura of the #Pac12AfterDark hashtag and the wild ones since.

The best and worst of Pac-12 After Dark

Bad Pac-12 reffing benefits ASU vs. Wisconsin – Sept. 14, 2013

So here’s the situation: ASU led 32-30 at home against No. 20 Wisconsin with 18 seconds left, but the Badgers had driven to the opponent 13-yard line. There, they aimed to burn a few more seconds off the clock with enough downs on the table by running quarterback Joel Stave around in the backfield.

Stave did that, kneeled down and gave himself up, placing the ball on the ground unattended.

Well, he did that after running into his own lineman. From the Sun Devils’ angle, it was probably hard to tell if he gave himself up or ran into the big man and fell down.

That put it on the officials to make it clear. And that didn’t happen.

What instead followed were Sun Devil defenders jumping on the ball. Meanwhile, Wisconsin players waited for the referee to pick up the ball and reset it so they could spike it and kill the clock to bring on the punt team.

The referees just, like, stood there. Even when the Sun Devils got off the ball, the officials took their sweet time to reset it for a snap. Wisconsin did not get off that snap and the game ended.

The Pac-12 reprimanded the referees for not making it clear in the moment that Stave was ruled down, causing ASU players to jump on the ball in what could have been another penalty on them.

Neither the referee nor anyone on his crew moved with appropriate urgency to clearly communicate that the ball was to be spotted so play could resume promptly.

“This was an unusual situation to end the game,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. “After a thorough review, we have determined that the officials fell short of the high standard in which Pac-12 games should be managed. We will continue to work with all our officials to ensure this type of situation never occurs again.”

See, chaos!

The prelude to Lane Kiffin’s tarmac firing – Sept. 28, 2013

The Sun Devils heaped a 62 spot on the Trojans in late September 2013, led by quarterback Taylor Kelly’s 351 yards and three touchdowns, plus a four-touchdown effort from running back Marion Grice and 103 receiving yards from Jaelen Strong.

The point total was tied for the most ever allowed by the proud USC football team, and that would mark the end of the already embattled Lane Kiffin.

Famously, Kiffin traveled back to Los Angeles with the team. Early the next day at the airport upon arrival, he was pulled off the team bus, walked into a small office and fired on the spot by athletic director Pat Haden.

Technically it wasn’t on the literal tarmac of the airport. But it was close.

The Hill Mary – Sept. 20, 2014

Two weeks before the rival Sun Devils’ Jael Mary, the Wildcats hit on the Hill Mary.

Arizona rallied from 22 points down but still trailed Cal 45-43 with four seconds left and Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon at mid-field. A lofting throw into the end zone came down right in Austin Hill’s chest with four Golden Bear defenders and one Wildcat teammate jammed in the back right corner with him.

It was a monster game for Solomon, too, as he outdueled 2016 No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Jared Goff with 520 passing yards, five touchdowns and two picks.

Solomon also led Arizona with 46 rushing yards in the 49-45 win.

The Jael Mary – Oct. 5, 2014

A big piece of Pac-12 After Dark was the chaos that came with it. What’s not chaotic about a Hail Mary?

ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici, in his second game as the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback in 2014, threw for 510 yards in a 38-34 win.

The last 46 of those yards came with no time left on the clock. His “Jael Mary” deep ball to Strong gave Arizona State the go-ahead score to upset the No. 16 team in the nation at the Coliseum. It somehow landed cleanly through a swarm of USC players who appeared to be in a position to play the ball.

Why didn’t these dudes bat it down?

Who knows? What we do know is it made for probably the most iconic Sun Devil football moment in the past decade.

Three OTs and a replay leads to heartbreak vs. the Ducks – Oct. 29, 2015

Alright, so you can watch the footage above — or read Vince Marotta’s very detailed confusion — to get an idea of how this wild, three-overtime game went overall for an Arizona State team boasting Bercovici’s big arm and a running back tandem of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.

ESPN reported the #Pac12AfterDark hashtag appeared 7,600 times across the two-day span around that game, which Oregon won 61-55 after the teams combined for 1,241 yards.

Before an interception of Bercovici ended the game, a 20-yard touchdown by Oregon in the third extra period was at the core of the controversy.

Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. hit receiver Bralon Addison in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard score for what was initially ruled a touchdown. Camera replays showed Addison got his heel inbounds, but his toe appeared to tap the back out-of-bounds line. Reviews were limited with a camera in the way of determining if his toe struck inbounds and the call held up, forcing the Sun Devils to score a touchdown.

Also, a sub-plot to this game: Utah had accused the Sun Devils of stealing its play-calls from a game earlier in the season, and Oregon took that possibility seriously.

Eight TDs for Kalen Ballage vs. Texas Tech – Sept. 10, 2016

Little did the crossover ASU and Arizona Cardinals fans know they were witnessing their future NFL head coach and future NFL MVP on the opposite sideline.

Under the tutelage of Kliff Kingsbury, Patrick Mahomes threw for 540 yards and five scores along with two picks.

What caught ASU fans’ eyes that night was Sun Devils running back Kalen Ballage scoring eight touchdowns — seven rushing and one receiving — in a 68-55 shootout victory.

It tied an FBS record for touchdowns in a single game.

The best non-Arizona moments

An NCAA passing record does not equal a win – 2014

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday set the single-game NCAA passing record with 734 yards and six touchdowns, but the Cougars missed a 19-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in regulation that would have won it.

Instead, it was a 60-59 win for Cal.

That is pain.

Pac-12 After Dark pain.

A 79-yard would-be touchdown turns into a 99-yard fumble return – 2014

The ultimate boy-that-guy-screwed-up-nobody-is-going-to-talk-to-him-in-the-locker-room-afterward moment of Pac-12 After Dark history is courtesy of Utah’s Kaelin Clay.

Clay caught a 79-yard pass to begin the second quarter, seemingly putting the No. 17-ranked Utes up two touchdowns on the No. 4 Ducks.

But as at least one Oregon player realized, Clay with a cool-guy move dropped the ball just a yard out of the end zone. In other words, the ball never crossed the plane.

Joe Walker — Cardinals fans might know that name — was that Oregon player. Walker scooped up the ball and just in case ran the other way for 99 yards.

Reviews concluded that Walker was pretty wise to notice that Clay forgot to score the touchdown.

From there, the Ducks piled up 24 points in the second quarter and won, 51-27.

Take the over on UCLA vs. Washington State – 2019

What a snooze-fest. Washington State led 49-17 midway through the third quarter. Goodnight.

Or not.

The Bruins rallied from 32 points down and — without overtime needed — scored 50 points in the final 18:48 of game time to win 67-63.

The Cougars didn’t help themselves with four lost fumbles and a punt return for a touchdown allowing UCLA do all that in so little time.

UCLA even allowed two more touchdowns to WSU after that 49-17 lead, yet still won. Also not helpful: one of those Cougar drives took just 1:20 off the clock thanks to the Air Raid passing attack.

The silly moments

Washington State popcorn guy

It was late and rainy in the Palouse. Stanford held a 41-3 lead when one Cougars fan in 2013 became infamous by drowning his sorrows in popcorn.

We’ve all been there, anonymous friend.

Bless the sideline porta-potty

Yes, the up-tempo Ducks created a sideline porta-potty to keep their players prepared to go back into the game at any minute.

The Sun Devil Stadium fox is outta here

The mythical fox that calls what’s now Mountain American Stadium a home came out — probably during his or her regular nocturnal hours — to take a lap. What did the fox see but tons of people and too much noise.

A perusal of the playing surface over, the fox yeeted itself out of there and up the ramp before the word yeeted even existed.

Ref love

Pac-12 refs, like most, take a lot of heat.

But sometimes there’s love to be shown around. Arizona safety Will Parks went viral after he gave love to a friendly ref as a Utah-Arizona game in 2015 went to overtime.

The fake ref and the scuffle

It was very much before Pac-12 After Dark took off, but this 2011 late-night contest is one we probably should include in what you could call the primordial soup of the phenomenon.

In a lopsided game between Arizona and UCLA, one Wildcat student ran onto the field dressed as a referee, successfully blew a play dead and then bolted — not before tearing off his outfit to reveal a speedo.

And then, completely unrelated things happened: The Bruins and Wildcats got into a benches-clearing tussle. Crazy stuff!

We’ll miss you, Pac-12 After Dark.

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Pac-12 After Dark reminiscing: The Jael Mary and other best Arizona school moments