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Bison notebook: True freshman QB Payton makes Lance-like debut at dome

Omaha Westside recruit will probably play in fewer than four games this season.

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North Dakota State's Cole Payton turns to hand off to T.K. Marshall against Valparaiso during their football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — Cole Payton provided a glimpse into North Dakota State's future on Saturday against Valparaiso.

The true freshman quarterback from Omaha, Neb., saw his first game action for the Bison and made the most of it by sprinting for a 37-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of NDSU's 64-0 victory.

"It looked a lot like his highlight film," said Bison head coach Matt Entz.

Payton played one series, running three times for 48 yards. He relieved second-stringer Cam Miller with 11:46 left in the game.

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Payton, who is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, was a highly touted recruit out of Omaha Westside.

He played the entire fourth quarter, which consisted of only one series, but did not throw a pass. Miller played the third quarter completing his only pass, a 23-yard swing toss that Jalen Bussey took for a touchdown.

Payton's touchdown dash was reminiscent of former Bison quarterback Trey Lance's debut. Lance, as a true freshman in 2018, tore off a long TD run against North Alabama at the Fargodome .

It's likely Payton will play four games or fewer, preserving four full years of eligibility under NCAA rules.

Price explosive on punt returns

In an oddity, the Beacons lost by 64 points but had a major advantage in time of possession, controlling the ball for 35:03 to NDSU's 24:57. The reason, of course, was penchant to score from long distance.

Four touchdown drives were four plays or fewer.

In another almost oddity, Bison punt returner Jayden Price came within a penalty of returning one for a touchdown in his first two games. He opened the scoring against Valparaiso with a 45-yard punt return for a touchdown.

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Price let a short punt bounce in front of him, but when no Beacons converged on the ball, he swooped in, scooped it and went the distance untouched.

"I think he was thinking everyone get away," Entz said, referring to NDSU's return team. "It took a perfect bounce, he had a head start and it was a big, explosive play. I was frustrated about the celebration down there, we need to clean that up."

NDSU was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on the celebration.

Valparaiso didn't go without a big play in punt formation. The Beacons successfully converted a fake in the second quarter when Ben Niesner ran 17 yards to the Bison 47-yard line. Niesner finished as his team's second-leading rusher.

Odds and ends

Starting linebacker James Kaczor did not play for the Bison. He was held out because of a leg injury sustained during the spring season. Entz said Kaczor could've played if needed. Entz said there were no other injuries of which he was aware. ... 64 points is the most points for NDSU in a game since the 2018 regular-season finale against Southern Illinois when the Bison scored 65. ... Valparaiso missed some players for the game. Starting quarterback Teryn Berry, backup running back Nick Orekoya, backup receiver/returner Chuck Maxwell and backup linebacker Jaxon Peifer were all sidelined. ... NDSU's next home game is nearly a month away. The Bison travel to Towson (Md.) next week before a bye. They play at North Dakota in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener Oct. 2 before hosting Northern Iowa on Oct. 9 for homecoming. ... First responders from the F-M area led the Bison out of the locker room in the traditional "lights out" intro. ... Valparaiso's opponent next week, St. Thomas of St. Paul, won its first-ever Division I game by beating Division II Michigan Tech 9-3. The Tommies are a member of the Pioneer League, Valpo's conference.

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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