TEMPE, Ariz. — Frank Kush Field was in a state of chaos late Saturday afternoon. The Sun Devils had just rallied for a 27-17 victory over Washington to snap a three-game losing streak and keep their postseason bowl hopes alive.
Linebacker Antonio Longino waved the ceremonial pitchfork in elation, players posed for pictures by Sun Devil football’s first lady, Penni Graham, and the student section serenaded quarterback Mike Bercovici and injured safety Jordan Simone as they came off the field.
As you took in the pandemonium you remembered a simple fact that often gets lost in the high-stakes world of NCAA football: this is what college athletics are all about. Despite the unfulfilled expectations of this season, and despite the media and fan cynicism that has dogged this team since a season-opening loss to Texas A&M, this game still meant something to ASU’s players and coaches.
There is still joy in the payoff of victory.
“We’re a whole bunch of Pop Warner football players that just moved up a couple levels,” Bercovici said. “It’s an amazing thing to win a football game and sing that fight song and it’s something we’ll never take for granted.”
That honor was in serious doubt after one half. The Sun Devils came out so flat that a press box worth of writers was nearly finished with its stories by halftime.
Washington’s mediocre offense racked up 341 yards, 16 first downs and nine explosive plays (12 or more yards) to take a 17-3 lead to the locker room that looked insurmountable. The Huskies boast the best defense in the Pac-12 and the Sun Devils had lost Simone (right knee) and spur linebacker Laiu Moeakiola to injuries.
“We had guys that are third-team playing,” coach Todd Graham said.
Somehow, the Sun Devils shrugged off the Huskies defense, forced four second-half turnovers and blitzed Washington for 17 fourth-quarter points to avoid the program’s first losing regular season since 2009.
“This football team is composed of a lot character and we keep saying that over and over,” Bercovici said. “Win or loss, when you are down at halftime all we focus on is the next snap.”
In the grand scheme of college football, or even the Pac-12, this game was largely meaningless. It was two teams fighting for bowl eligibility and little else.
The goal is always to win the national or conference championship and the Sun Devils won’t come close to either one of those achievements.
But when the disappointment of this unfulfilled season has faded years from now, Bercovici, Simone, D.J. Foster and a litany of other Sun Devil seniors will remember moments like these when the community came together for homecoming and the players came together to overcome a deficit and celebrate. It may sound cheesy, but the bond they built will last a whole lot longer than the sting of a single disappointing season.
“Never, ever, ever have I felt like that they did not play every snap and play hard and play with character,” Graham said. “It’s just great to see that because it tells me that we’re doing some good things in what we’re teaching these young men.”