Fargo

Cam Miller didn’t transfer. It’s the thing to do these days for backups at key positions in college football. It happened at Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois this season and it will happen with regularity from this year forward.

It’s the world of the transfer portal, a world the North Dakota State sophomore didn’t partake in after Quincy Patterson was named the starting quarterback in August.

NDSU is thankful Miller hung in there.

He was the difference in the second half at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, coming off the bench to ignite a sleepy Bison offense. Miller threw two touchdown passes to rally the Bison past Missouri State 27-20.

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North Dakota State's Christian Watson catches a touchdown pass to pull ahead of Missouri State during the their football game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
North Dakota State's Christian Watson catches a touchdown pass to pull ahead of Missouri State during the their football game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

More from North Dakota State's victory against Missouri State:

“I feel like it’s so easy to just pack up and leave now when you don’t get what you want,” Miller said. “But I’ve always been taught since I was a young kid that you’re going to stick it out and if you don’t get what you want, you have to work harder than the person who has it.”

Now the question that head coach Matt Entz intercepted before anybody had a chance to address it.

“I know someone in here is going to ask me if he’s going to be the quarterback,” Entz said in his post-game press conference. “Guys, I’m not going to talk about that with you. I wouldn’t call you guys for advice, I’m not going to talk to you about who’s going to be the quarterback. We’ll do that on Monday as a staff.”

My advice, albeit not at college level material, is free by the way. That’s another story. The story against the Bears was the Bison making the switch at quarterback. It’s never an easy call and it’s rare at NDSU.

North Dakota State's Christian Watson reels in a 45-yard reception against Missouri State's Montrae Braswell at the Fargodome on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
North Dakota State's Christian Watson reels in a 45-yard reception against Missouri State's Montrae Braswell at the Fargodome on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

After Patterson was 5 of 16 passing with an interception, it was time. With the Bison defense on the field, Miller was getting fist bumps from teammates and words of encouragement from others.

Down 20-13, about 15,000 fans in the dome could have used some words of positivity, also. The Bison offense to that point was a struggle, with a disjointed-looking passing game that had the flow of the drought-stricken Red River this summer.

Simple plays looked difficult.

This is a program that has produced three straight NFL draft picks, so the expectations are different than your average FCS bear. Two of them will be at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco on Sunday when Indianapolis (Carson Wentz) plays at the 49ers (Trey Lance).

Miller showed some of that moxie on his second series. With NDSU starting from its own 41-yard line, he spearheaded a 59-yard touchdown drive. Two straight Miller runs produced a first down.

On first-and-10, a scrambling Miller found Phoenix Sproles open in the left corner of the end zone and the 29-yard scoring play tied the game at 20-20. There was still 13 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game.

That was another story; the return of Sproles to the offense. Entz revealed that the senior receiver was still battling knee and hamstring issues from last year that lingered into this season.

“I see a young man whose feet are literally back into the ground and playing with confidence,” Entz said.

What Miller provided was what’s been lacking this season: an accurate short- to middle-range passing game. That's what the game-winning touchdown was, with Missouri State continuing to cover Watson with man coverage.

“Cam works his butt off every week whether he’s going to get zero snaps or 50 snaps,” Watson said. “I think it came down to preparation. Cam and me never lost that connection even if he’s the backup quarterback.”

The Bison overcame two penalties that usually doom a drive: a 15-yard offensive facemask and a 15-yard taunting, the latter that had the Bison first-and-10 at the 24-yard line instead of first-and-goal.

Miller was sacked for six yards on first down. A short pass to Watson forced a third-and-10. No matter. Miller found the senior receiver in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown play. There was no rust on his right arm.

“I feel like I’ve been ready every week to go,” Miller said. “After I didn’t get the job I just had to tell myself that my time was going to come. It could be next week, it could be down the road in two years. But it came today and I felt like I was ready to go.”

Miller took over as the starting QB late last spring when Zeb Noland was having his struggles. He was the guy under center when NDSU lost at Sam Houston in the FCS quarterfinals.

Miller finished 7 of 9 passing for 112 yards and two touchdowns. And the Bison survived a Saturday of defeats by highly ranked teams like South Dakota State and Eastern Washington.

“I felt like after Sam Houston that I had a lot to prove to people,” Miller said. “I felt like a lot of people were counting me out and I’m not worried about what anybody else says or thinks about me. But I felt like I needed to show Bison nation what I’m all about.”

Said Entz: "He has a ton of integrity, he's a man of character and a man of faith. I don't think his parents would let him do that. There's lot of reasons why kids go in the portal but he's a tough kid, he's from Iowa. So you have to like him."