Rockefeller Center in New York houses what may as well pass for a statue of Easton Stick. Towering above the Midtown hustle is a 45-foot bronze statue of Atlas, a mythological figure with rippling muscles shouldering the weight of the world. While Stick wasn’t carrying the entire globe on his shoulders this past Saturday, he was responsible for toting the weight of a fan base’s collective expectations.
Amidst a far-from-ordinary week of preparation, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that there was a game to be contested Friday night. Monday night’s announcement of Chris Klieman’s departure for Kansas State could have been a fatal blow for a team less disciplined or focused than North Dakota State.
However, the Bison didn’t blink. With Klieman’s transparency and the stewardship of a group of 24 veteran seniors, the run-up to the semifinal clash with South Dakota State was business as usual. While headlines wrote themselves in the buildup to Friday’s clash, the Bison put their heads down and went to work. They drew inspiration from two familiar sources: Klieman and their talismanic quarterback.
There was perhaps no one more prepared than Stick, and the Bison needed every ounce of the Omaha native’s focus to vanquish SDSU. The quarterback engineered the send-off of a lifetime for both Klieman and his classmates, completing 12 of 15 passes for 169 yards and rushing for an additional 147, accounting for four touchdowns.
The Easton Stick show took center stage on the Bison’s second drive of the night. After a quick 12-yard completion to Darrius Shepherd, the quarterback took matters into his own hands. The quarterback rushed for 25 yards to move NDSU past midfield. An off-balance pass to Seth Wilson for 32 yards put the Bison in the red zone, where Stick finished the job courtesy of a Bruce Anderson block on a designed quarterback run.
The quarterback run game was a critical component of the game plan all week, as Klieman later explained. “I told him during the week that we were going to put a lot more quarterback runs in,” the head coach said.
With the score tied at seven, the Bison took a lead they’d never relinquish, again courtesy of Stick. After two 15-yard pickups via Nate Jensen and Ben Ellefson, Stick ripped off a run that will live on in the minds of the 18,286 in attendance for years. Stick took the snap out of the shotgun formation and burst up the middle, weaving through the Jackrabbit defense for a score. The carry was capped with a stiff-arm on Jordan Brown in which Stick inadvertently flashed the all-too-familiar Heisman pose.
The Heisman pose wasn’t lost on social media, but it was Stick’s performance that had Klieman raving. “Easton Stick is the best player in college football,” he asserted. “Period.”
The final death knell for the Jackrabbits came from Stick on the Bison’s penultimate drive of the night. The senior blasted through the line and practically mirrored his second-quarter run, eluding defenders for his final score.
It was evident early on that there would be no stopping Stick and the Bison ground game. Anderson and Wilson, as well as Ty Brooks, appeared to be fired out of a cannon on every rush. But as the NDSU running backs succumbed to injuries, Stick stood tall.
“I said, ‘Easton, you may carry the thing 30 times, but we’re going to ride you.’ And he said, ‘Let’s keep going coach,'” Klieman stated. “I kept telling (offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham), ‘Just keep giving it to him.’ He was not going to be denied today.”
While Stick made like Atlas to shoulder the entirety of Bison Nation, his outing against South Dakota State could be best categorized as Herculean. The victory was No. 48 of Stick’s illustrious career, tying him with fellow NDSU legend Brock Jensen for the most wins in FCS history.
“It’ll mean a little bit more if we finish it the right way,” Stick commented. One more win in Frisco would be nothing short of mythical.