PHOENIX — Not once all season had West Virginia’s defense accommodated a 400-yard passer. Mike Bercovici changed that.
Rarely had the Mountaineers seen receivers exploit missed tackles and slivers of daylight for touchdowns like Arizona State’s did.
And not since October had Tony Gibson’s defense yielded 40 points. The Sun Devils snapped that string too.
Yet on the Cactus Bowl’s critical series, with Chase Field building a roar the folks could’ve heard in Tempe, the Big 12’s second-rated defense stiffened to preserve a 43-42 victory, keeping Arizona State and its dangerous kicker out of field-goal range.
“We’re thinking we’ve got to get a stop or it’s over,” said sophomore safety Dravon Askew-Henry.
Nose guard Kyle Rose admitted, “I was praying we’d hold them.”
With Bercovici working on a four-touchdown, 418-yard passing day, West Virginia’s lead hardly felt secure, at least until the senior went 0-of-4 on ASU’s final drive. The fourth-down pass he tried to throw over Jared Barber was barely deflected by the linebacker, helping defensive MVP Shaq Petteway break up the.
“I just played the (yardage) sticks and tried to read the quarterback’s eyes,” said Barber. “It came down to us on the defense and we had to make it a play.”
Statistically, this was not the defense’s finest hour. The reddened, puffy eyes of Barber, Petteway and safety K.J. Dillon revealed the ending made it satisfying nonetheless. Gathered around the midfield trophy platform, they sang “Country Roads” with no musical accompaniment, occasionally sobbing into each other’s shoulder pads.
“It was a pretty long way over here. We would’ve hated to go all the way back home with an ‘L,’ said Dillon. “I’m glad we came all the way to Arizona to beat a team in their own back yard.”