SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — This weekend in the Springfield-Branson area of Missouri was peak season for colorful fall foliage. Just beyond Plaster Stadium, under clear skies, shades of yellow, green and orange leaves glistened in the sunlight.
Inside the stadium, the color of note was red, as in the red-hot right arm of North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick. Almost everything he touched in the first half turned to gold and NDSU’s Missouri Valley Football Conference title-clinching 48-7 win over the Bears was over by halftime.
Stick threw five TDs in the first two quarters and tied the school single-game record for touchdown passes held by Tony Stauss, Steve Walker and Carson Wentz. About the only suspense in the second half was whether Stick would break it.
He didn’t, meaning he shares a record with Stauss, Walker and Wentz, who all have varying degrees of importance in NDSU’s Division I era. Stauss was the first starting D-I quarterback, who in a sense set the stage for the reclassification by engineering the famous upset over Montana in 2002.
Walker guided the Bison to back-to-back 10-1 seasons in 2006 and 2007 and showed NDSU how to beat FBS programs. Wentz set his five-TD record against the Bears at Plaster in 2014, and what he’s done since is self-explanatory.
Wentz may be getting a message from his former Bison understudy quarterback, too. Stick wasn’t aware after the game he became part of the exclusive Five Touchdown Club.
“I’ll have to make sure to let him know,” Stick said.
Stick finished 15 of 24 for 238 yards and passed Brock Jensen for the NDSU career total offense record. Stick has 9,980 yards. Jensen had 9,838 from 2010-13.
The number that matters the most, however, is 44-3. That’s Stick record as the starting quarterback. When Saturday’s game mattered in the first half, Stick toyed with the Bears.
“He was pretty special,” said Bison safety James Hendricks, who came to NDSU as a quarterback. “That kid, he prepares so well. He prepares better than anybody else in the country. I’m just glad he got those touchdowns today, that was pretty cool to see.”
The Bison didn’t mess around in this one. They went 85 yards in seven plays the first time they had the ball, ending with a 29-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dallas Freeman.
The Bears ran three plays and punted.
Stick came back with a 29-yard scoring pass to tight end Ben Ellefson.
“He was putting the ball where it needs to be thrown,” Ellefson said.
The Bears ran one play, an interception by Hendricks.
Stick came back with a 43-yard TD pass to tight end Nate Jenson, who didn’t have anybody in the same zip code of his passing route.
The Bears screwed up the ensuing kickoff, and NDSU’s Jackson Hankey recovered. Getting the point here?
Stick came back with a five-yard touchdown pass to Ellefson.
With the second quarter just seven seconds old, the Bison ran 25 plays. The Bears had four plays. It was 27-0.
“They’re doing this against everybody,” said Missouri State safety Jared Beshore. “(Stick) is a good player. He makes them go. He makes good decisions.”
At that point, Stick completed his first 11 passes. The difference in who came to play and who didn’t was striking. Last week, Youngstown State came into the Fargodome a hurting team from the previous week and gave the Bison all they wanted.
This week, Missouri State came into its own home field a hurting team after getting pounded by South Dakota State last week and didn’t bring much thunder.
The Bison have set themselves up nicely for November and December. Running back Seth Wilson returned to the lineup for the first time this season and showed some flash and burst.
Stick is a fifth-year senior who looked like an NFL prospect against the Bears.
“He was phenomenal today,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said of his QB. “He’s been great all year. He was great in the first half when they had everybody in the box and we were able to get some good plays behind their secondary with our tight ends and he was on point.”