SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — North Dakota State didn’t waste any time in wrapping up sole possession of the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship.
The No. 1-ranked Bison scored touchdowns on their first four possessions against Missouri State on Saturday afternoon at Plaster Stadium. They rolled to a 48-7 victory behind five touchdown passes from quarterback Easton Stick before an announced crowd of 5,224 fans.
NDSU (10-0, 7-0 MVFC) remained undefeated and clinched the conference title outright with one game to play in the regular season. The Bison have won at least a share of the Valley title for a league record eight consecutive seasons.
"It's a special feeling," Stick said. "It's hard to do, and to win it outright is really hard. Eight in a row, it's huge."
The Bison made quick work of the Bears with all of Stick’s scoring passes coming in the first half. His five TD passes tied the school’s single-game record, matching Steve Walker, Carson Wentz and Tony Stauss.
"He was phenomenal," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. "He was on point."
The Bison had clinched a share of the MVFC crown with a victory the previous weekend against Youngstown State at the Fargodome. Klieman didn't want to share.
"Getting the outright title is what we wanted. We weren't even going to count it last week with the share potentially," Klieman said. "I know that everybody circles the Bison on their schedule. Those guys know it and every week our guys brought it. That's something that I give those seniors a lot of credit."
Stick had scoring tosses of 29 yards to wide receiver Dallas Freeman, 29 yards to tight end Ben Ellefson and 43 yards to tight end Nate Jenson in the first quarter to build a 20-0 lead. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound senior came back to hit Ellefson again from 5 yards out on the first play of the second quarter and it was 27-0.
"It was important to start fast and finish them off," said Bison safety James Hendricks, who had an interception.
The two first-half TD receptions gave Ellefson a team-leading six this season.
"It comes down to taking advantage of the opportunities," said Ellefson, from Hawley, Minn.
NDSU capped its first half with Stick’s 27-yard touchdown pass to running back Lance Dunn with 2 minutes, 33 seconds to play in the second quarter. That made it 34-0 at halftime.
Stick completed 15 of 21 passes for 238 yards in the first two quarters.
"We were efficient, moved the ball around and it was fun," Stick said. "It just felt good. I was comfortable with the plan coming into it."
The Bison defense, meanwhile, kept Missouri State from sniffing the end zone in the first two quarters. Bears quarterback Peyton Huslig was 3-of-16 passing in the first half for 21 yards with one interception, the Hendricks pick that the Bison turned into a touchdown.
"I thought we kept fighting," Missouri State head coach Dave Steckel said. "I thought we were resilient, but when you dig a hole against the national champs, it's a damn uphill battle."
Missouri State got on the board early in the third quarter. It was just an interruption for the NDSU offense.
The Bison went to the ground game in the third quarter with a pair of touchdown runs from sophomore running back Adam Cofield. He scored from 14 yards out on NDSU’s ensuing possession and it was 41-7 with 7:02 to play in the quarter.
Cofield’s 5-yard scoring jaunt late in the third quarter gave NDSU a 48-7 advantage to close out the scoring.
The Bison won all four Valley road games they played this season with an average 34.5 points margin of victory.
"What we did on the road in the Valley with some convincing wins was pretty special," Klieman said.
"I think that everyone just gets really motivated when they step on another person's field," Hendricks added.