When the sun set in the West last football season, things got weirdly awesome and awesomely weird.
From Hail Marys to Hill Marys to Jael Marys, from kicks going wide right and left to pure shots in overtime, from fumbles at the 1-yard-line to obscene amounts of scoring -- the Pac-12 provided a level of drama, seemingly on a weekly basis, that felt unprecedented.
This phenomenon took on the name #Pac12AfterDark. Born in the depths of the Pac-12 Network's social media department, the hashtag caught more momentum with each nail-biting game and eventually went on to personify what Pac-12 football was all about.
It gave East Coasters a reason to stay up late to see if drama would ensue (and it usually did). It gave fans an explanation for why their team won or lost.
"Did you see that Oregon State-ASU game?"
"Yeah man, freaking #Pac12AfterDark."
It's part mythology, part superstition and all amazing.
The way the Pac-12 race is expected to shape up in 2015, chances are we're in for some more thrilling games. But before we look ahead, let's go back and recap the top five #Pac12AfterDark moments of 2014. (And for the record, five doesn't do it justice).
1. Oct. 4, 2014
We're not going to pick just one moment for our top choice. We're picking an entire day. In what might be deemed the most entertaining Saturday in Pac-12 football history, fans were treated to three unbelievably thrilling night games. Even before the night session started, the whacky index was already rising when Stanford decided to play defense for 59 minutes instead of 60 against Notre Dame.
Then came the nightcaps. In rapid succession, Arizona State pulled off the Jael Mary, outscoring USC 20-14 in the fourth quarter and winning 38-34 at the Coliseum when Mike Bercovici connected with Jaelen Strong on a 46-yard touchdown as time expired.
Across town, the Utah Utes and UCLA Bruins were slugging it out before Andy Phillips put Utah ahead for good, 30-28, with 34 seconds left in the game. UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn had two shots at long field goals after a running-into-the-kicker penalty, but he couldn't connect on either.
And finally in Pullman, Washington, the Air Raid vs. Bear Raid was everything we could have ever wanted. Jared Goff and Connor Halliday combined for 1,261 passing yards and 11 touchdowns with zero interceptions. The game was as much a disgraceful defensive display as it was a quarterback clinic. Washington State held a relatively tame 24-13 halftime lead before the teams erupted for 82 -- 82! -- points in the second half. When all was said and done, it was a missed 19-yard field goal from WSU that secured Cal's 60-59 victory.
2. The Hill Mary
This was the one that got the #Pac12AfterDark phenomenon rolling. Cal held a seemingly secure 31-13 lead over Arizona in the desert heading into the fourth quarter. But as we'd come to learn in the Pac-12 last year, leads are rarely safe. The Wildcats went on to score 36 points in the fourth quarter, accented by a 47-yard touchdown strike from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill as time expired to pull away from the Bears 49-45. Cal's win probability right before the Hill Mary was a confident 87.9 percent, according to ESPN metrics. But those went out the window, the Zona Zoo went crazy, and #Pac12AfterDark officially went viral.
3. OT in Tempe
Utah kicker Andy Phillips, good friend of the Pac-12 blog, has earned the name "Automatic Andy" for a reason. He's one of the most accurate kickers in the country, and distance is rarely an issue. So what could make Phillips miss not once, but twice? #Pac12AfterDark, of course. The Sun Devils and Utes were in a knock-down, drag-out battle in the desert with points coming at a premium. It was primarily a battle of kickers as each offense was held to just one touchdown (that in itself is an anomaly in this league). But in overtime, just as Phillips was set to kick from 35 yards out, the Utes had to call a timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty. Which was fine, because Phillips pushed it to the right. But on the next kick -- the one that counted -- he overcorrected and pushed it to the left. That opened the door for Zane Gonzalez, who calmly drilled a 36 yarder in overtime for the winner. The Pac-12 blog thought it was a classy move by Phillips to congratulate Gonzalez via twitter.
4. The 1-yard fumble
If it feels like we're picking on Utah, apologies. We can't help it if the Utes helped make #Pac12AfterDark what it was. (On a positive note, Utah's victory over USC, complete with a weird backward-pass fumble touchdown and last-minute score was a runner-up). But Kaelin Clay's fumble against Oregon was so bizarre and without explanation that #Pac12AfterDark is the only thing that made sense. With Utah set to take a 14-0 lead on visiting Oregon, Clay appeared to break loose on a 79-yard touchdown pass. But he officially went only 78 yards, dropping the ball at the 1-yard line, thinking he was in the end zone. When the dust settled and the confusion subsided, Joe Walker had returned the fumble 100 yards for a 7-7 tie instead of a 14-0 lead. The Ducks went on to win 51-27 (in what was also a horrific injury game for both teams). Clay manned up big time in the postgame media conference, shouldering the blame for the gaffe. He even had a little fun with it when Oregon's Byron Marshall almost made the same mistake in the national championship game. The Pac-12 blog appreciates a good sense of humor.
NO BYRON NO!!!!— Kaelin Clay (@CALiboy4) January 13, 2015
5. The comeback that wasn't
The Cardiac Cats, aka Arizona, had built quite the reputation for close games and dramatic finishes en route to a 5-0 start, which included four straight wins by an average of five points over UTSA, Nevada, Cal and Oregon. Then USC came to town in what would be another close game -- 28-26 -- but in favor of the Trojans. Trailing 28-20 in final three minutes, Arizona marched 80 yards and scored on a Solmon-to-Cayleb Jones touchdown, but the two-point conversion failed, leaving the Cats in a 28-26 hole with a minute to play. But they recovered the onside kick, because, of course, #Pac12AfterDark. However, after advancing all the way to the USC 19, a missed 36-yard field goal with 12 seconds left ended Arizona's winning streak and flipped the #Pac12AfterDark mojo to the Trojans, who then lost it two weeks later at Utah.