Carson Wentz was in the house, but Easton Stick owned it on this day.
With the hottest quarterback commodity in the NFL watching from the press box (and getting escorted by security guards around the Fargodome), North Dakota State's sophomore QB spent Saturday, Oct. 1, blistering Illinois State with his arm, feet and brain. The Bison might not be able to replace the No. 2 overall choice in the NFL Draft, as Wentz was, but Stick is making a pretty good effort.
The stat line showed that Stick finished 13-of-18 passing for 256 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks in a surprisingly comfortable 31-10 NDSU victory, but Bison quarterback coach Randy Hedberg says the most impressive thing about it is the progress his pupil had made between the ears.
"Easton has really progressed in the last month. My hat's off to him," Hedberg said. "He has watched so much video and worked so hard and you are seeing the result of that. He is seeing things so well, getting us checked out of one thing and into another, and making all the right decisions."
Hedberg offered Stick's perfect 65-yard TD pass to R.J. Urzendowski in the second quarter as evidence. Stick read the defense at the line of scrimmage, checked the Bison out of the play that was called and changed it to one that had Urzendowski sprinting down the left sideline with one-on-one coverage.
Urzendowski ran past Redbirds cornerback DraShane Glass and Stick hit him in stride at the 15-yard line. Urzendowski did the rest, diving into the end zone for 14-10 lead.
Glass, interestingly, was the same defender Urzendowski caught the key pass against in the 2014 Football Championship Subdivision game in Frisco, Texas. That was the play when Wentz, under pressure, threw a wobbly ball that Urzendowski had to stop and come back for before leaping above Glass to make the grab. It got the Bison to the 5-yard line. Wentz ran in the game-winning touchdown a play later for an epic 29-27 victory.
Stick doesn't yet have a title under his belt, like Wentz and Brock Jensen before him. But he's 12-0 as a starter-4-0 this season and 8-0 last year in relief of an injured Wentz-and looking better each week.
"As you get comfortable and you're seeing stuff better, that comes with reps," Stick said. "Like I said, we had a great plan and guys executed."
Urzendowski's TD started a string of pass plays that broke Illinois State's back. Stick's next completion was NDSU's vaunted middle screen, this time to Chase Morlock on a third-and-8 from the Bison 10. Morlock jetted 52 yards to the Redbird 38.
On the next play, Stick tossed a perfect deep touch pass over the top to Lance Dunn for a 38-yard touchdown.
It was an explosive string of pass plays that were rare a year ago when Stick came off the bench as a redshirt freshman and Bison coaches tightened the playbook.
"There's just more comfort there," Hedberg said. "He studies so much video during the week that he knew what looks they were giving him. He's made so much progress. I'm proud of him and how far he's come. And he's still a young guy, only a sophomore."
That fact is easy to forget, considering the success Stick is having. Remember, Wentz did not start until his junior year after being Jensen's backup. And Stick has an advantage over both of his predecessors-he's a better runner. Bison coach Chris Klieman said he wants to limit how many times Stick carries the ball, but the weapon is always there.
The kid just has "it," the same way Jensen and Wentz had "it." And Wentz got to see it firsthand, with the Philadelphia Eagles having a bye week. Wentz was on the field before the game, tossing a football-left-handed, Eagles coaches-with assistant coach Tyler Roehl. Wentz took a few moments to shake hands and have a photo taken with 8-year-old Cameron Winkler, a wheelchair-bound fan who greeted the now-famous Wentz with: "Hi Carson. You know me. We've met before."
"Of course I know you. Hi, Cameron," Wentz said.
During the game, Wentz sat with Bison coaches in their booth. Wentz was simply an observer, Hedberg said.
Stick was asked if there was any pressure having his friend, mentor and former teammate at the game.
"No pressure. It's playing football. It's a game," Stick said. "I'm extremely blessed and fortunate to play it and be at a program like this. I'm just going out there and playing. God bless Carson for all he's done for this program and what he's doing now, but it's a new team, a new season and we're really excited to see where we can go."