McFeely: Like his friend Carson Wentz, Bison QB Stick gets his title
Easton Stick downplayed the poetic justice of him leading North Dakota State to a victory in the national championship game, because that's his style. He learned that from his buddy Carson Wentz. It's all about the team, all the time.
But let us say what needs to be said: Stick getting a victory as the starting quarterback for the Bison is something he deserved. He got his own national championship, officially.
Stick led the Bison to a 17-13 victory over James Madison at Toyota Stadium on Saturday, the team's sixth Football Championship Subdivision title in seven years. Stick was named the game's outstanding player after completing 13 of 22 passes for 130 yards and a crucial touchdown. Stick also had several key rushes. But most importantly, he didn't throw any interceptions against a savage Dukes defense that had him under constant duress.
But the story of Stick's title was not about statistics, or even the 50-yard touchdown pass he threw to Darrius Shepherd in the second quarter that gave NDSU a 14-3 lead. The story is Stick getting the chance to play in the national title game and winning it.
"He deserved the opportunity to play in this game," Bison coach Chris Klieman said. "He played like a veteran."
There is a backstory worth telling. NDSU's starting quarterback in 2015, when Stick was a redshirt freshman, was Wentz. You may know of him. He was the second pick in the 2016 NFL Draft for the Philadelphia Eagles and was a Most Valuable Player candidate this season before injuring his knee. Wentz and the Bison were rolling through the 2015 season before he injured his wrist against South Dakota midway through the year.
That's when the Bison called on Stick. The youngster, with no college experience, started eight straight games and won all of them, including three playoff games. He led NDSU to Frisco.
But when it was time to face Jacksonville State in the title game, Wentz was healthy enough to play. He started in place of Stick, was outstanding against the Gamecocks and launched his ride to being a high draft choice.
Stick, of course, had no problem with his best friend stepping in to win a title. Wentz deserved that chance, because of his overwhelming talent and his impact on the Bison program. But Stick's role in getting the Bison to the game wasn't necessarily rewarded. After the Bison lost to James Madison in the semifinals a year ago, the hole in the resume remained.
It was filled on a perfect afternoon against the Dukes, Stick ending the game by vaulting the football into the air after running out the clock to preserve the victory. His legacy as a championship quarterback was cemented.
"If I'm honest, I haven't really thought about it too much," Stick said. "I haven't really thought about it. This is about this group of seniors and their opportunity to finish it the way they've always wanted to."
Stick is as vanilla as they come while talking to the media. He gives you little emotion and even less potential bulletin board material. Besides football knowledge, that's something else Stick learned from Wentz.
Klieman was not so reserved.
"I absolutely love that young man. Easton is an absolute stud," Klieman said. "He's 34-3. Is that right? He's 34-3 with a national championship. He's still going to be compared to his best buddy Carson. Carson sent both of us a text this morning. I know he's so jacked for him."
Stick is now a member of NDSU's all-time Division I quarterbacks club with Steve Walker, Brock Jensen and Wentz. Saturday's victory assured that. But he might be able to be an all-time FCS quarterback if the Bison have an excellent season again in 2018.
Jensen is FCS' all-time winningest starting quarterback with 47 victories from 2010-13. If Stick wins 14 games as a starter next season—the Bison have an 11-game regular season plus the potential of four playoff games—he would have 48 wins as a starter. He would be the winningest starting QB in FCS history.
It's a longshot, but so is a program winning six national titles in seven years. And the Bison should be very good again in 2018. Stick got his just rewards against James Madison. He might make a historical impact before he's done.