North Dakota State earned another trip to Frisco on Friday night. This time, Easton Stick will be flying the plane to Texas.
I’m serious. He has three weeks to learn how to be a pilot and the way he studies anything in life, he could probably do it. An undergraduate degree with almost a 4.0 grade point average. Check. Working on an MBA with a 4.0 this semester. Check that, too.
Figuring out college football defenses with an expert rating. Check.
“Easton Stick is the best player in college football. Period,” said head coach Chris Klieman. “He is the best player in college football.”
Stick was what you want in a senior quarterback before 18,286 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. He was the general in NDSU’s 44-21 victory over South Dakota State that sends the Bison to the FCS Division I national title game Jan. 5 at Toyota Stadium for the seventh time in eight years.
Check out these stats: 12 of 15 passing for 169 yards and one touchdown. More impressive: 16 carries for 147 yards and three touchdowns.
He’s now 48-3 as a starting quarterback tying Brock Jensen for most wins in the FCS. It began in 2015 on a touchdown run at Indiana State on his first start following the injury to Carson Wentz.
There was a certain giddyup in that run that made you notice.
It’s going to end in Frisco.
“That was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football,” Stick said.
It had been awhile since “standing room tickets” were in the game day vernacular of Bison football. The attendance has been very good all year, no doubt, but this one had some spice to it.
The teams brought the hot sauce to the field. SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion was looked over by trainers twice on the field in the first half and ended the second quarter limping to his sideline. The guy was a warrior.
Stick, meanwhile, left for the locker room looking fresh with 7 of 9 passing, 78 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The latter, a 34-yard quarterback draw, gave the Bison a 14-7 lead just 1:35 before halftime.
“We knew they were going to run Stick, that’s what they do in the playoffs,” said SDSU cornerback Jordan Brown.
“I really think Easton Stick was the big difference in the football game,” said Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier.
Stick spent most of this season being preserved like a mummy, with the quarterback run game off the table. For two reasons: The Bison didn’t need him to carry the ball and there was no need to risk injury.
Not on Friday.
“I told him during the week we’re going to put lot more QB runs in,” Klieman said. “Some things we hadn’t done before and we knew we would run some. I just think the world of Easton. Love the kid. Love his family. He and I are pretty close.”
Stick had eight carries in the first half alone. The last time he had double digit in carries was five games ago against Youngstown. Not only that, Stick ran with some fullback-like mentality against the Jacks that he hadn’t shown previously this season.
The circumstances determined the all-out effort. It was the kitchen-sink game, after all, meaning nothing was off the table for either team.
“I think a little bit knowing you have three weeks to recover,” Stick said. “Everybody was going to give everything they could to make sure we won this football game. It was a challenge to play physical and play hard for four quarters.”
A key series that showed Stick’s value, and poise, came in the third quarter. NDSU had to overcome penalties on three different occasions on a touchdown drive, with two of those negating TD runs.
Bruce Anderson had a 36-yarder called back. Stick had a four-yard TD run called back. It was second-and-12 and the Jackrabbits were still holding it together in the red zone.
That’s when Stick hit Anderson on a cross-field pass and the touchdown made it 28-14.
One series later, Anderson scampered in from 41 yards away and the Bison were smelling Frisco up 35-14.
The Jacks responded with a long touchdown pass and heading into the fourth quarter they still had life down 35-21. They still had to contend with Stick, however. Moreover, NDSU was down most of its running backs with Bruce Anderson, Seth Wilson and Ty Brooks nicked up.
“I told (offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham), I know we still have No. 12, let’s keep riding him,” Klieman said.
The Bison ran 15 plays and picked up three third-down conversions and, more important, ran over nine minutes off the clock. A good quarterback picks up third downs. A great one does it with Frisco in sight.
“The guy plays out of his mind no matter what,” said Bison running back Seth Wilson. “His preparation is above anybody I’ve ever seen before. Just seeing how focused he is; week after week, day after day.”
The drive ended with a Cam Pedersen field goal, but only 6:21 remained and NDSU with a three-possession lead. It was about time to cue up Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas” song.
“We’re thrilled, we’ve been there before and we’re comfortable with the routine,” Stick said. “We know how much work goes into it before we get on the plane to go down there.”
He may be flying that plane.