Youngstown, Ohio

What took place in the first half at Stambaugh Stadium was so far out of left field that if it were baseball, the 10-run rule was starting to become an option. What in the name of Jim Tressel and Bo Pelini happened to those games in an old steel town that came down to the last minute? Or overtime?

North Dakota State flew into the Mahoning Valley this weekend and you would have thought the Bison came in on B-52s. That was a sorte mission in the first half that left Youngstown State in a state of shock.

Two days after Halloween, this was supposed to be a spooky game at night for the No. 1-ranked team in the country. The final, NDSU 56, Youngstown State 17, was scary all right in this thought: Was NDSU that good or was Youngstown that bad?

Know this: The Bison are good at home and on the road with impressive performances at Delaware, Illinois State and now Youngstown.

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“Playing at home is great but playing these away games is amazing,” said Bison tight end Josh Babicz.

Amazing described Trey Lance on Saturday. If he wasn’t at his best in the last couple games -- and let’s get this straight, his expectations are higher for a freshman quarterback than mine -- then he was back to his old self against the Penguins. His first half was near perfect. And let's get another thing straight: He's the best FCS quarterback in the country right now.

He was 7 of 9 passing for 160 yards and three touchdowns, with each TD showing how damaging and versatile he can be.

“I threw better balls than the past few weeks,” Lance said. “I think we were a little frustrated, so we had a lot of energy and it was a lot of fun.”

He started the first-half slaughter with a nine-yard touchdown run, breaking one tackle on the way to the end zone. One possession later, Lance lofted a perfect bomb to a sprinting Christian Watson for a 69-yard scoring play. That made it 14-0.

That throw; that’s how they do it in the NFL. Lance said he thought he may have overthrown Watson, but it was high enough to land in his hands and strong enough to keep the Penguin defensive back from having enough time to close the gap.

“His motto is you’re never going to overthrow me,” Lance said, “so he took off and went and got that one.”

A few minutes later, Lance, while scrambling, shook Youngstown quarterback sack machine Justus Reed off like he was brushing a bug off his back, and found a wide open Babicz in the end zone. That made it 21-0.

“At first I thought he’s going to get sacked and I should go try block for him,” Babicz said. “Then I saw him get free, so then I had to go back in the end zone. He’s athletic and he’s able to get out of those tough situations and make a play.”

Lance was a man amongst boys. The Bison were so explosive in the first half that they had six touchdowns on eight first downs. That’s like a stat from junior high flag football.

“We had some explosive plays,” Entz said.

In the second quarter, Lance shot a height-perfect six-yard scoring strike to the 6-6 Babicz, who came down with it over a smaller defensive back.

“Trey put it in the perfect spot,” Babicz said, “where only I could get it.”

The half ended with NDSU freshman Kobe Johnson returning a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown with 42 seconds left. As he was sprinting by the Penguin bench, the head coach Pelini could only stare at the ground. He could just as well have been looking for an escape tunnel because he’ll have to look at No. 5 for another three years.

“He's a good player,” Pelini said. “He fits their offense real well. They utilize him really well. He's a good fit. I think he's going to just keep getting better.”

The Bison have the best quarterback in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They just graduated the best QB in the league (Easton Stick), who took over from the best QB in the league (Carson Wentz), who took over from the best QB in the league (Brock Jensen).

Is there a trend there?

None of those guys did what Lance has done as a freshman. Especially at Stambaugh Stadium.

Lance broke the team record for most passes thrown without an interception. He now his 159 passing Stick’s record of 152.

He did not throw a pass in the second half and head coach Matt Entz smartly pulled him after the first drive of the third quarter. Moreover, Entz said the Bison didn’t have to use its quarterback-run game very much.

If Lance wasn’t at his best against South Dakota State or Missouri State, he was against Youngstown.

“Was he more accurate than other weeks, I don’t know,” Entz said. “I just know he felt good today and you could see it on our execution. … The young man is steady. Never too high, never too low. That’s probably a sign of a mature young man who continues to strive to be the best.”