Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson (8) and wide receiver Tarique Milton (1) celebrate after a touchdown during the third quarter at Jack Trice Stadium, Nov. 6, 2021, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Xavier Hutchinson took a deep breath, most certainly did not set his feet, flinging the football downfield, hoping it would find fellow Iowa State receiver Tarique Milton’s capable hands.
It did, but it certainly wasn’t pretty. It was effective. And it did prove to be essentially a game-sealing play in the Cyclones’ 30-7 rout of Texas Saturday night at a sold out Jack Trice Stadium.
Hutchinson hadn’t completed a touchdown pass of any kind since his JV days of early high school, so he ran down to celebrate with Milton in the end zone after the 49-yard touchdown connection that helped ISU (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) drop the Longhorns (4-5, 2-4) for the third time in a row.
Milton smiled at him and spoke.
“I remember it word for word,” Hutchinson said of the jubilant post-TD exchange. “He said, ‘I can’t believe you completed this ball.’ I said, ‘Me, too, ‘Rique.’”
Me, too — considering the ball seemed to hang in the air for seven seconds.
Hutchinson said he had repped the trick play just twice before in practice. Both attempts had tumbled to the ground incomplete. So getting it to Milton was a big deal, but not just because of the points it produced.
“Man, just for that play to go to ‘Rique, that means everything,” said Hutchinson, whose team outscored Texas 27-0 in the second half. “Before I even got here, ‘Rique was the man here. And he had some minor setbacks with injuries and stuff like that, and he was going through his own personal dilemmas, but to see him always just come out and be the same person every day, you just cheer on for a guy like that. I’m just so happy that for the first time I was able to throw him the ball and he was able to score.”
That somewhat wobbly, yet meaningful connection put the Cyclones ahead 17-7 with 7:10 left in the third quarter.
Hutchinson’s first down catch on third and seven on the previous possession — ISU’s first drive of the second half — helped set the stage for Breece Hall’s smooth, yet ankle-breaking 47-yard touchdown that put the Cyclones ahead for good.
ISU’s ‘A’ players showed up magnificently on that drive and throughout a second half that seemed to break the once-feisty Longhorns’ spirit as they spiraled into a fourth straight conference defeat.
“I just think our ‘A’ players on offense, they were not a hair off in terms of attitude and effort, they were a hair off in terms of precision and detail,” said Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell, who notched his 30th conference win. “And I really thought they settled in. Texas is really good on defense and has some great veteranness on that side of the ball and and yet I never thought (we) lost their poise. What really showed in the second half is their ability to be so efficient moving up and down the football field and we kind of felt like we were doing that in the first half, yet we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot with mistakes or some of those things.”
The defense and special teams helped ensure that early struggles wouldn’t lead to a gut-wrenching outcome this time.
Texas eked out 207 yards of total offense — mostly on two meaningless late semi-drives. It was the least yardage the Longhorns gained in a game since Paul Rhoads’s last ISU team held them to 204 yards in a 24-0 shellacking in 2015.
ISU’s stars shined, of course — from Will McDonald notching 2.5 sacks to break JaQuan Bailey’s all-time program record in the category, to Enyi Uwazurike adding 2.5 of his own while wreaking havoc on the Longhorns’ quarterbacks from the interior of the defensive line.
But the so-called ‘A’ players were joined by some less heralded ones to forge this dominant win, too.
“What’s really rewarding for me is yes, some of our ‘A’ players played ‘A’ football,” Campbell said. “But man, a guy like Blake Peterson, who has been a warrior in trying to get better. He was in on some critical moments and played phenomenal for us. Kendall Jackson is a young man that walked on here and has been a really good special teams player for us. He played some meaningful snaps tonight and played really well at WILL linebacker. Corey Dunn, gosh, we love Corey. He’s been through so much here and in a critical moment tonight, his punt was huge. It wasn’t just defense, offense. We were back to playing complementary football.”
Sprinkle in Hall’s Big 12 record-extending streak of at least one touchdown run in 21 straight games, Kicker Andrew Mevis pushing his streak of consecutive field goals made to 11, and it all adds up to the Cyclones’ 15th home win in its past 16 games against Big 12 foes.
Everybody played a part, but for Hutchinson, getting a chance to revive his long-dormant, ahem, quarterbacking skills proved to be extra special.
“I was like, ‘You know what? (The coaches) believed in me,’” Hutchinson said with a smile. “‘It’s time to bring out my inner Tom Brady and throw a dot.”
Or a duck. It got there. That’s all that matters.
“X said he was a quarterback until his junior year in high school,” Campbell said. “But that throw wasn’t pretty and we can see why he’s not a quarterback anymore. It was a great call by (offensive coordinator Tom) Manning … We had been repping that for a couple of weeks. It was great to see Tarique finish it.”
As for style points, who cares?
Hutchinson did his job, throwing a touchdown pass for the first time in five or six years, but the first time in such a charged setting.
“Different feeling,” Hutchinson said of his only collegiate touchdown pass (so far). “Especially in front of 70,000 people, not 500.”