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Payton's Place: Bison backup quarterback has defined role in offense

NDSU redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Payton has found the endzone twice this season.

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North Dakota State’s Cole Payton tries to break away from North Dakota during their football game on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at the Fargodome.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum
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FARGO - The backup quarterback usually is the most popular guy in a particular town.

Fargo is no exception, where the likes of Carson Wentz, Easton Stick and Trey Lance each were in the backup role.

The 2022 version of the North Dakota State Bison has a similar situation as with those past teams. Starting quarterback Cam Miller will be under center for the 20th straight game Saturday when the Bison host the University of Montana in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.

All Miller has done is compile a 17-3 record as the starter and lead NDSU to the 2021 FCS Championship. But the fan whispers about the backup are still there. Especially when he is as highly touted as Cole Payton is.

Payton came to Fargo as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2020 class, he signed with the Bison in December of 2020 from Omaha Westside High School, leading the Warriors to the state championship. Two days after Payton won a state title, he received a scholarship offer from then-Nebraska head coach Scott Frost.

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"I never considered that. I had committed to NDSU and that's where I was going to go." Payton said.

NDSU fans breathed a sigh of relief and ever since have been waiting to see the 6-3, 235 pound left hander get on the field. He did sparingly in 2021, playing two games and scoring two touchdowns, just like another backup quarterback did in his freshman year. Trey Lance.

But reps seemed hard to come by with Miller and Quincy Patterson coming back for the 2022 season. But when Patterson announced his intentions to transfer in May, those reps would find their way to Payton.

"Coach (Randy) Hedberg expects me to prepare like Cam does. We're ready if anything were to happen. I know we have each other's backs."

Payton has been a valuable weapon for the Bison offense this season. He was unleashed against Arizona, using his legs, running the ball five times for 32 yards, picking up first downs along the way.

"It just goes to show how much work I've put in and thanks to Coach (Jim) Kramer and it's pretty cool to be able to produce."

Payton has one forgettable moment this season, where he threw an ill-timed interception against South Dakota State. The Bison led 21-7 in the second quarter, where Payton, who has only thrown it 12 times this season, was under pressure and forced a throw. It was intercepted in the endzone.

Payton has seen his reps increase as the season has gone along. After the SDSU game, he has carried the ball at least two times over the last four games. What Payton enjoys more than anything is when he comes into the game along with Miller on the field.

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"We had a play against Youngstown, the nose tackle is yelling they have two quarterbacks in! We were lined up there together and we're always eager to run those type of plays, it's a lot of fun."

Payton has had to deal with getting his number called after being "the guy" in high school. He knows though how key his role is in the Bison offense.

"It just back to knowing your role. Obviously college football is different than high school. We have a lot of players that are really good, we have a lot of depth. Just accepting your role and doing the most you can within that role."

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North Dakota State’s Cole Payton takes the ball into he end zone for a touchdown against Illinois State on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, at the Fargodome.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Dom Izzo is the Sports Director at WDAY-TV. He began working for WDAY in 2006 as the weekend sports anchor and was promoted to Sports Director in 2010.
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