It was as if Easton Stick took a private jet to Minneapolis on Friday night, ran down Trey Lance at the North Dakota State team hotel and handed him something very important in the Division I history of Bison football. A baton.
Figuratively, of course. Yes, what started with Steve Walker and moved on to Brock Jensen, Carson Wentz and Stick was handed to the redshirt freshman from Marshall, Minn., on Saturday. At a baseball stadium, Target Field, Lance hit several plays out of the park.
The Bison have themselves another quarterback.
“We dominated up front and I didn’t get touched in the pocket,” Lance said. “When I don’t get touched and I can sit back there in the pocket, it’s a good feeling.”
He left the Bison fans with a good feeling. The kid was smooth. Silky smooth. His 33-yard run to open the scoring was reminiscent of a scoring TD he turned in last year. Good, but not great.
Great came later.
On first-and-10, Lance lofted a high, long pass that found the waiting arms of receiver Phoenix Sproles for a 47-yard scoring play. Lance showed a couple of veteran traits on the throw.
Blessed with a strong arm, he didn’t try to rifle a line drive to Sproles, instead throwing it with perfect touch. It virtually dropped out of the sky into the end zone, putting it in a spot only Sproles could catch it.
“The receivers made a lot of big plays,” Lance said.
Lance showed at times the ability to find a second or third receiver. He looked defenders off, again, like a veteran player. He used his tight ends and after a couple of years of promise, Josh Babicz and Noah Gindorff put it into action to start their sophomore seasons.
Lance was 9 of 10 for 172 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone. Freshman jitters in front of 34,544 fans? Hardly.
“If you were an innocent bystander coming in watching him, you would have never thought he was a redshirt freshman,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz. “I thought he had a ton of moxie, a ton of maturity and did an outstanding job of executing the offense and controlling the huddle. We didn’t have a delay of game. He got the communication going and did a great job of on-the-field adjustments as well, getting us in the right plays.”
He did this despite Butler showing some coverages NDSU didn’t expect.
“They game-planned for us really well,” Lance said.
Yet, he finished 10 of 11 passing for 185 yards. It’s the same stuff Walker, Jensen, Wentz and Stick did.
The only thing that changed was the number.
There weren’t many runs in the game plan for Lance, nor should there have been. He made them count, however, like the 26-yard QB draw on third-and-18 late in the second quarter. It led to the second TD pass to Babicz and it was 36-0 at halftime.
Just for good measure, as an encore of sorts, Lance sprinted 61 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, a run that was a combination of strength and speed. He shed a couple of Butler defenders like they were eighth-graders and once in the open, it was goodbye.
“He showed today he has great speed,” Entz said. “He’s a big, physical cat.”
Earlier in the week, Butler head coach Jeff Voris gave his team a speech that was posted on Butler’s social media site referencing Rocky vs. Apollo Creed.
It was a noble effort by Voris, but this was more like Apollo Creed vs. me. In the end, there was to be no trading punches with Lance.
“They didn’t ask him to throw it a ton, but he was accurate and certainly is a dual threat,” Voris said. “It looked like he was getting them in and out of plays and can certainly pull it down and run. He adds that extra dimension.”
The four quarters were not all clean for the Bison. If they start the third quarter against Northern Iowa, South Dakota State or Illinois State like they did against Butler, the results could be different.
The Bulldogs went 63 yards in 13 plays that ended with a 29-yard field goal. On NDSU’s first play following the kickoff, Ty Brooks fumbled and linebacker Dan DelGrosso took it 29 yards the other way for a touchdown.
Brooks quickly made up for it going 36 yards for a touchdown on the next series. And Lance put a cap on his day with the 61-yard TD.
He finished with 301 total yards. In three quarters. Oh, there was one mistake. On a run in the third quarter, Lance chose to try and run over a Butler defensive back rather than go out of bounds.
That didn’t please the head coach.
“I said that’s a one-time deal,” Entz said. “If we get the first down, let’s get out of bounds. It’s a long season and we need to make sure you’re going to be OK.”
On Saturday, Lance was more than OK.