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NDSU return burns cliche with speed

You know that cliche about southern college football teams being faster than northern college football teams, just because that's the way it is? Forget about it. Allen Burrell helped blow that one up at the start of the second half Saturday night.

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You know that cliche about southern college football teams being faster than northern college football teams, just because that's the way it is? Forget about it. Allen Burrell helped blow that one up at the start of the second half Saturday night.

Burrell took the kickoff from Carson-Newman's Ryan Smith at the 10-yard line at the south end of the Fargodome, veered to the right sideline and left the Eagles' coverage team eating his artificial turf dust.

Two Carson-Newman players had a shot at Burrell as he crossed midfield in full afterburner mode. They had a better chance at catching a piece of dust getting blown across 19th Avenue North by Saturday's 30 mile-per-hour gale. Burrell sprinted into the end zone -- untouched for all 90 yards -- to stamp an exclamation point on North Dakota State's eventual 49-19 victory over the Tennessee-based college.

"They are a fast team, I'm not taking anything away from them," Burrell said of the Eagles, the team advertised as the speed demons in the week leading up to the game. "But we have some speed here. People might not think so because we're so far up north, but we have some kids on this team who can flat out run. From Shamen Washington to Marques Johnson to Cinque Chapman to Kyle Steffes to me. We have guys with some speed."

Washington, of course, is the true freshman who galloped 90 yards for a touchdown on a kickoff against Montana Tech in the previous game.

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"You can coach a long, long time and not see two kickoffs returned for touchdowns in back-to-back games," Bison coach Craig Bohl said. "To have them returned by two different guys -- that's something else."

Though it's a source of good-natured chop busting between Burrell and some of his fleet-footed teammates -- particularly Washington -- Burrell is the fastest of the Bison.

There are two ways to find out this fact. No. 1, you can ask Burrell and he will tell you. Or you can look at the numbers. Burrell is the school record holder in the 100 meters with a time of 10.22 seconds. His name appears in six other spots among NDSU's outdoor track records.

Which makes it all the more surprising Burrell was a sprinter non grata in the Bison's first two games. NDSU's leading receiver last season with 56 catches, he had two quiet receptions against Valparaiso and Northern Colorado.

The drought ended in Week 3 against overmatched Montana Tech. Burrell had a pair of touchdown catches, for 48 and 31 yards, in NDSU's 56-3 victory.

Was the slow start frustrating?

"Anytime you feel you're a playmaker, you want to make plays. But it's a team concept. We have great athletes on this team. We have great depth at receiver and running back," Burrell said. "There are a lot of hands that want to touch the ball. I just knew that if I stayed patient my opportunities would come and it would be up to me to make something of them."

Burrell's first opportunity to make something happen against Carson-Newman came after the Eagles took a 6-0 lead after an impressive opening drive. Smith, perhaps kicking away from Washington, booted the ball to Burrell. He returned it 46 yards to the Eagle 42 to set up the Bison's first touchdown.

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Burrell said it should have been more.

"I let my teammates down on that because they did a good job of setting it up. That one could've went, too. On the second one, coach said we had to make a statement coming out of halftime. I knew the guys were going to give me a chance to break it, so I knew this time I had to get it in there," Burrell said.

Bison opponents now have few options when it comes to kicking off. Burrell or Washington. Washington or Burrell. Pick your proverbial poison.

Or they could choose to do what Carson-Newman did after Burrell's first two returns -- squib it to the 25.

"Shamen returned one last week, so I had something to prove," Burrell said. "Me and Shamen have something going. If he makes a big play, I have to make a bigger one. That's between me and him."

Poor Carson-Newman, the team with the supposed speed advantage, got caught in the middle and paid the price.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard Saturdays at 8 a.m. on the WDAY Golf Show (970 AM). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com

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