TEMPE, Ariz. — Mike Bercovici finally got his payoff.
Arizona State’s senior quarterback won’t end his season in the College Football Playoff. He won’t play in the Pac-12 title game. He won’t even play in a bowl of much significance.
For a guy who sacrificed so much for the program and embodied the type of player coach Todd Graham wants, however, Saturday’s performance in a 52-37 win over rival Arizona on Senior Day was still a pretty good consolation price.
“People remember how you finish,” Bercovici said. “Coach (Todd) Graham has been preaching that all week long.”
Bercovici completed 21 of 32 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns in his final home game to help Graham improve to 3-1 against Arizona and bring the Territorial Cup back to Tempe. Bercovici did throw an interception and lose a fumble, but his performance more closely resembled the player that ASU fans expected to see all season: the guy with the big arm making big plays downfield to a receiving corps that got behind coverage.
Bercovici connected with receiver Devin Lucien on a 59-yard TD strike to stake ASU to a 14-0 lead after one quarter. He also hit Jalen Harvey on a 41-yard touchdown pass as ASU built a 31-10 halftime lead.
“We saw a lot of things on film that we liked, but our players just made plays,” Bercovici said. “All it is is protection and timing and reps and reps and reps. When you overthrow a post in practice you’ll hear so it feels good to connect on some of those.”
Maybe Arizona’s 108th-ranked passing defense had something to do with Bercovici’s success. Maybe it helped that his receivers — an average lot for most of the season — finally started getting open downfield on a consistent basis. Maybe it helped that his tackles held up in pass protection on the edges. Or maybe Bercovici just let it all hang out with nothing to lose on a team whose loftiest goal right now is the Las Vegas Bowl.
“When you’re at the point of the season where we were before today you can’t look back; the focus is this game,” he said. “Obviously, we’re sitting in a different situation than where we thought we’d be in the summer time. But we’re here, we’re living in the moment and the Cup is home.”
Bercovici never questioned his decision to stick with the program and sit behind Taylor Kelly all those years. He never questioned the sanity of relying on one shot, one season to realize all his college football dreams — at least not publicly.
“There were situations where I’d come home from practice and just whine on the phone, feeling sorry for myself,” he said. “You see people come and go in a program but the people that can survive are the successful ones, not just on the field but off it.
“To go to a new place with a new helmet sitting in a new locker; my stomach would turn to see different colors. I’ve been a maroon and gold kid since I was 17 years old and committed to this school.”
The result of Bercovici’s final home game was in doubt when Arizona rallied within 31-23 to start the fourth quarter and ASU was facing a fourth-and-1 at the Wildcats’ 48-yard line.
Graham said he thought long and hard about punting, changing his mind about seven times until his offensive line talked him into going for it.
Bercovici kept the ball on the play, gained 10 yards and then jumped to his feet to signal first down emphatically as the Devils drove for a touchdown that helped finish off the Cats.
“Our former players write messages about this game and one of the players wrote a message about the ’87 Rose Bowl and how they won the championship, the conference championship, they won the Rose Bowl, but the one thing that they still have a bad taste in their mouth about is losing this game,” Graham said. “The magnitude of this game is really, really big, not only to our players, but to our fans and everybody. So forever, Mike Bercovici got it done.”
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