When the emcee tore open the envelope containing the name of the FCS Walter Payton Award winner Friday night, he said, "Oh, wow." That was a pretty strong hint for North Dakota State football coach Matt Entz that his quarterback was going to win the award.
That former NFL player Gary Reasons had that reaction when he saw Trey Lance's name inside the envelope naming the best offensive player in the division tells you the theme of the night at the Stats Perform FCS Awards banquet at a Frisco hotel.
Shock. Surprise. Whoa.
Given the wacky January rain, thunderstorms and wind happening outside the Frisco Convention Center hall, maybe it was just that kind of night.
A freshman won the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for the first time. A player from NDSU won the award for the first time.
It's hard to believe the best program in FCS history, winners of seven of the last eight national championships, hadn't had a Payton Award winner until Friday night, but that was the truth.
"I'm shocked," said Entz, who sat at a table near the dais with a delegation of NDSU representatives that included Trey's parents, Carlton and Angie. "To have a freshman quarterback receive the award says a lot about our program and where our program's at. I know Trey's not going to take a lot of credit. He's very humble. He's going to say this is about his teammates. I think it's a cumulative effect of all the work this program's put in, long before I became the head football coach."
Some of the bombshell effect certainly came because of last season's events at the same banquet, when Bison quarterback Easton Stick did not win the Payton Award. Stick was a senior quarterback, the best player on an undefeated team who ended his career as the QB with the most wins in FCS history.
Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges won the award instead. Hodges was a tremendous quarterback, who started six games for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers this season. He was no slouch. NDSU types, however, felt Stick deserved the award.
"Surprised," NDSU quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg said when asked about his reaction when he heard Lance's name called. "It kind of makes up for Easton not winning last year. So we could've had two consecutive winners, but I'm really happy for Trey."
After Stick's graduation, the word behind the scenes at NDSU was that Lance was the clear heir apparent. He was a prized recruit from Marshall, Minn., one who was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at Boise State and had other offers from Big Ten and Big 12 schools (although they were to play safety or linebacker). It seemed even more evident after spring practice that Lance was going to be the Bison starter.
Entz threw a wrinkle at the media and public, however, when he opened fall practice saying there would be an open competition for the starting quarterback job between Lance, junior transfer Zeb Noland and sophomore Noah Sanders. Lance was named the starter a few days before the Bison's season opener at Target Field against Butler.
The youngster put on a show before 34,544 Bison fans at the Minnesota Twins ballpark in downtown Minneapolis. He completed 10 of 11 passes for 185 yards and four touchdowns while adding 116 rushing yards, including TD runs of 61 and 33 yards.
Lance put the FCS on notice he was special.
"I kind of sensed it when we played Butler at Target Field. He had a great opening game and he played so well with tremendous poise and confidence, and I think that set the table for the rest of the season," Hedberg said.
There were a few games in which Lance didn't look like Superman, but they were the exception to the rule.
Lance has completed 186 of 277 passes for 2,714 yards and 28 touchdowns in leading the Bison to a 15-0 record. The biggest number, though, is zero. Lance has not thrown an interception this season going into the FCS national title game Saturday against James Madison at Toyota Stadium.
The voting was a rout. Lance finished with 353 points, including 42 first-place votes in balloting of more than 150 voters. Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus finished a distant second with 276 points with 24 first-place votes.
"When I heard the 'Oh wow,' I knew we had a shot and that's all we need as Bison," Entz said. "I thought he deserved it, but to have the voters across the country recognize his level of play, his execution and his leadership says a lot about him as an individual."
Lance joins former Bison quarterbacks Jeff Bentrim and Chris Simdorn as major award winners. Bentrim won the first Harlon Hill Award winner for best player in Division II in 1986. Simdorn won the Hill award in 1990.
Both of those Bison teams won national championships. Lance has his chance to do that Saturday.
If it happens, it might warrant another "Oh, wow."