FARGO – North Dakota State not only welcomed back a dominating performance that it turned in so many times in the past few years, it welcomed back one of the top defensive backs in the FCS. C.J. Smith made a difference.

The senior cornerback returned from offseason knee surgery, and his presence was noted by his coaches and fellow defensive players in a 41-14 victory over Weber State (Utah) before 18,801 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

"It was just exciting, a lot of emotions," said Smith, who had four tackles. "My adrenaline was really pumping."

The first time Smith went all-out in a practice situation was a week ago Friday. In essence, the Weber game was his first full contact football action since the national title game last January in Frisco, Texas.

"It was probably the toughest part of my life, just being out and watching everything from summer workouts to fall camp," Smith said. "It was really hard but I also think I grew a lot in that time."

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NDSU gave up one long pass play, a 68-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter. But other than that, the Bison secondary looked much more composed than it did two weeks ago at Montana. Certainly, having Smith was a big reason.

"It gives you maturity in the secondary, I love having him out there," said Bison linebacker Nick DeLuca. "Anytime you have a guy like that who can make plays in the secondary, it adds a comfort factor to the defense."

There wasn't much of a comfort factor for Weber quarterback Jadrian Clark, who finished 9 of 23 passing for 123 yards and an interception. Head coach Chris Klieman noted Smith made the first tackle of the game, and the NDSU defense fed off of that.

"There were certain situations we were in man coverage, they tried to go to their receiver and (Smith) made some really good plays," Klieman said. "He was a big lift for our defense."

Bison may have found their kicker

After Ben LeCompte missed a 43-yard field goal in the first half, NDSU turned to Cam Pedersen. The true freshman from Eau Claire, Wis., booted a 27-yard and a 37-yard field goal in the second half.

Does that mean Pedersen has won the field-goal kicking duties?

"Probably," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "I will still have him compete for that job. But I was pleased with his poise coming off the sideline. It was just kind of another day at the office. He wasn't nervous."

LeCompte, NDSU's All-American punter, missed one field goal in the season-opening loss at Montana. His 43-yard attempt on Saturday sailed right. But LeCompte did continue to shine as a punter-averaging 52½ yards on four attempts Saturday.

"We've got to take some pressure off of Ben so he is not doing so many doggone things," Klieman said.

Freshman QB Stick sees action

Redshirt freshman Easton Stick saw his first game action with the Bison, rushing for 24 yards on three carries late in the game.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Stick had an explosive first college carry, rushing for 21 yards. That long gain sparked a drive that ended with a Pedersen 37-yard field goal, which gave NDSU a 34-7 lead with 13:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Stick didn't attempt a pass.

"We wanted to find a way to get Easton in the game," Klieman said. "I thought he did a great job. We were going to try to get Easton some quality reps."

Etc. etc. etc.

Senior receiver Zach Vraa passed Warren Holloway for third place on the all-time reception list with his 23-yard touchdown catch late in the first half and he didn't stop there. He caught three more and tied Travis White for second all-time with 163. The scoring reception also put Vraa on the doorstep for the all-time touchdown reception record. He now has 25 for his career, one behind leader Tim Strehlow. ... Klieman said afterward that his team suffered no major injuries, with the only concern a possible concussion to linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker. ... The crowd of 18,801 was the 30th straight of at least 18,000 for NDSU at the Fargodome. ... NDSU had a massive time of possession advantage at 40:04 to 19:56. ... The 586 total yards were the most since the Bison ran up 623 in a 48-14 2013 playoff victory against Coastal Carolina.