The best news is that Chuckie Keeton did not snap his knee Saturday against BYU. Seeing something like that go down would have been too much for just about anyone. In fact, the Utah State quarterback set a record for passing touchdowns in this, his final home game at Maverik Stadium in frigid Logan.
No. 16 played like he was on a new knee, frankly, this after enduring a torn ACL and MCL in the last BYU-Utah State rivalry game two years ago on this very field. He’s endured more surgeries than just about any Heisman Trophy candidate should.
And yet despite being on two reconstructed knees, he looked like the Chuckie Keeton of old, cutting back to his right on a zone read play and leaving BYU defenders in the dust on his way to a 52-yard rushing TD in the first quarter.
On another play in the second quarter, the senior out of Houston rolled to his left and threw a rocket into the left corner of the end zone, which his receiver Hunter Sharp leapt for and caught for another TD.
In characteristic Keeton fashion though, the senior signal caller out of Houston downplayed the big deal–because there was a lot of football left to be played in a game that eventually turned out to be a 51-28 blowout loss to rival BYU, who regained the Old Wagon Wheel trophy in the process.
But in this moment, it was Keeton who, married to this team it seemed for time and all eternity, dropped to one knee and pointed his index finger skyward, somewhat sheepishly but graciously accepting these plaudits after six long years of service. Fitting for a kid who was ticketed for the Air Force Academy–then did a 180 at the last minute in his recruiting process and committed to Utah State.
What in years past might have resulted in a celebration from Keeton is now a more reserved exultation, something borne from frustration and humbling experiences most of us can’t even fathom.
When in life have we ever had to wake up early in the morning in excruciating pain and still gut out grueling physical therapy sessions? How many of you have had the better part of two seasons–and two Heisman Trophy campaigns–interrupted by injuries? The answer: not many–maybe Taysom Hill can relate on the other bench.
“It took too long to get there,” Keeton said of breaking the record. “It was special, but at the same time, it was part of the game. It was just something that I wanted to get out of the way. As soon as they called the play, I knew it was going to Hunter.”
That one was No. 61 too, giving him yet another thing on which he can be proud in a career that many will always wonder: what if? What if Keeton stayed healthy and didn’t tear his ACL? What if Keeton played an entire season and had a legitimate shot at winning a Heisman Trophy–the first in Utah State football history? And what if Utah State gave him the protection he needed on those spritely legs of his? All questions left unanswered for the person who was arguably, the best quarterback in school history.
At the end of the day, what kept Keeton going was his faith, the belief in some higher power who would help him–in the midst of this swirling madness–to make the right decisions on and off the field.
But just as Keeton started this game in smoking hot fashion on a somewhat balmy 25-degree temperature afternoon, the weather–and his game–would soon undergo a hard right turn towards more hard lessons, as if he needed any more.
Snow flurries fell harder and faster, and Keeton’s play would also take a turn for the worse. By the time temps dipped into the teens and dark clouds settled over the Cache Valley, Keeton started doing uncharacteristic things. After he helped guide the Aggies to what appeared to be an insurmountable 21-10 lead midway through the second quarter with that TD toss to Sharp, chinks started showing up in the armor on this old, valiant knight.
As the clock literally read double zeroes to signal halftime, Keeton tried to do too much with the ball, switching it to his outside hand. It was the right move so that BYU defenders couldn’t paw at the ball.
But, as Keeton attempted to shake a BYU defender coming at him, the ball didn’t cooperate with Keeton, falling to the turf. How could this even happen on Senior Day? How could the ball do this to Keeton, who has been through so much in his short life? Everything seemed to be going right, and then, it just–ack.
For starters, a BYU defender scooped up Keeton’s bobbled ball and ran it 37 yards to the house, giving the Cougars a 24-21 lead–bringing BYU back from a 21-10 deficit. Talk about a momentum killer.
“Even more ironic is that was about the same place on the field where I hurt my knee two years ago,” added Keeton, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in a loss to BYU in 2013. “It’s not really a good spot for me.”
Tell us about it. The biggest issue with Keeton’s fumble and stunner of a BYU TD to end the half was that BYU also got the ball back to start the second half. So, not only did BYU pick up Keeton’s fumble and take that mojo straight into the warmth and coziness of the visitors locker room, it would be coming back on the field, with the ball, to start the second half action. Blech, said every Aggie fan in the stadium. BYU just made Logan its temporary home and fans could settle in with those tasty Maverik Nitro 99 cent specials they bought on the concourses.
On the strength of Keeton’s mistake, a 24-21 lead soon turned into 31-21 in favor of BYU. The rest of the mistakes on this dreary day for Aggie Nation weren’t necessarily Keeton’s doing. A missed field goal by Utah State soon after resulted in another BYU touchdown.
But, Utah State showed moxie with its senior quarterback engineering a drive, culminating in a Nick Vigil plunge in which the junior linebacker moonlighting as a running back, spun off one attempted tackle and plunged into the end zone from 2 yards out, chopping BYU’s lead to 38-28 early in the fourth.
Keeton would throw for 243 yards and that record setting score and run for 54–including his 52-yard scamper. The best news for Keeton and the 6-6 Aggies, who would watch BYU score 13 unanswered points in this miserable fourth as snow flurries blanketed the blue seats that thousands in this sold out stadium were fleeing just as quickly as the falling flakes, is that they’re still going to a bowl game.
So by virtue of the hard work Keeton and his Aggies have put in during this frustrating season, their days of playing together aren’t over.