There was one player that North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman was particularly excited to see play in Frisco.
“There’s no one that deserves the opportunity to play in a National Championship game more than Easton Stick,” Klieman said at his New Year’s Day press conference.
Stick’s chance to have a crack at a National Championship game has been two years in the making. When the Omaha, Nebraska native was pressed into action in the 2015 season, the redshirt freshman ripped off eight consecutive wins, including three in the playoffs.
He stood at the doorstep of starting the title game as a true freshman, but when Jan. 9 rolled around, Stick had no choice but to concede the starting role to a fully healthy Carson Wentz.
In the 2017 edition of the FCS championship game, the quarterback took the field at Toyota Stadium as the unequivocal leader and star for the Bison. And while Stick posted a more pedestrian stat line against James Madison, he delivered a 14th national championship to NDSU.
Stick bested James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor, completing 13 of 22 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Now 34-3 as a starter, Stick has added a national championship to his growing list of achievements.
The game-winning play of the National Championship game came in the final minutes of the first half. Already leading 7-3, the Bison were looking to capitalize on Nate Tanguay’s interception and add to their advantage. Up stepped Stick.
On third-and-17 after a false start penalty, the junior signal caller took the snap in the shotgun, took a two-step drop and uncorked a bomb down the left sideline into the waiting hands of Darrius Shepherd. The score and ensuing extra point were all the Bison needed to take home the trophy.
Shepherd’s first touchdown of the season could not have come at a more opportune time.
In many ways the play and the game as a whole are a tribute to Stick’s phenomenal 2017 season, one in which cumulative numbers do not jump off the page but individual moments do.
His season marks of a 62.1 completion percentage and 2,466 passing yards do not necessarily dazzle observers. These totals are in large measure deflated due to the fact that NDSU has gone to the ground in the second half with sizeable leads. No less, in every game this season, Stick has left an indelible mark on the Bison offense and the outcome of the game.
In seven of 15 games this season, Stick’s longest pass went for 40 or more yards, highlighted by a 77-yard pass to Dimitri Williams against South Dakota. In that game, Stick once again outdid one of the FCS’s best quarterbacks, throwing for more yards than Chris Streveler.
His longest play from scrimmage came against Youngstown State, when, to open the fourth quarter, he dashed for an 80-yard, tie-breaking score.
The quarterback never attempted more than 28 passes in a game on the season, which occurred against South Dakota State, a game in which the Bison never led.
The rivalry loss to the Jackrabbits was the nadir of Stick’s season. One week removed from his tossing two interceptions and posting his lowest completion percentage of the season, Stick threw three interceptions in the Herd’s only loss of the season.
Stick turned the corner quickly after the loss in the Dakota Marker game, beating Streveler and the Coyotes in the following week en route to an inspired stretch run.
He topped another of the subdivision’s best signal callers in the semifinal against Sam Houston State, when he threw for four touchdowns and beat Jeremiah Briscoe, the recipient of the Walter Payton Award for the best offensive player in the FCS two years in a row.
Stick still needed one more win to cement his ever-growing legacy, and with one singular flash of brilliance, he did just that. His perfectly thrown, high-arching spiral was his final masterpiece of the 2017 season, and it ultimately proved to be the difference against James Madison.
The Most Outstanding Player of the championship also took on the role of head coach, helping to design the final play to melt off the last four seconds on the clock.
“Coach and I were going back and forth, what our best possible scheme was there,” Stick commented on the final play. “I just made sure, number one, catch the snap, and I found the clock right away and wanted to get down as soon as it was hitting zero.”
Klieman corroborated Stick’s telling, indicating that the quarterback assured him the game was in good hands. “He’s right. He and I went back and forth on what to do with that four seconds,” the head coach remarked. “He just goes, ‘Coach, don’t worry. There will be no time left on the clock. Trust me. There will be no time left on the clock.’”
Klieman has always spoken highly of Stick, a quarterback who never ceases to win football games. Even after his three picks against SDSU, Klieman said he would take his quarterback for another 20 years.
“I absolutely love that young man. Easton is an absolute stud. He’s 34-3. Is that right? He’s 34-3 with a National Championship,” Klieman said after Stick got his long awaited shot at the title game. “It’s cool to be able to see him take all that preparation and fulfill that dream of being a National Championship quarterback.”
Many debated prior to the season that Taryn Christion of SDSU was the top quarterback in the Missouri Valley Conference. Any such notion that still lingered died when he threw six interceptions against JMU in the semifinals. Rather, three weeks later, it was Stick who slayed the Dukes’ mighty defense.
With nothing left to prove, all that remains for Easton Stick is to turn heads even more in 2018, as the best quarterback in the best conference in the FCS.