Propelled by junior quarterback Easton Stick’s masterful performance, the North Dakota State Bison steamrolled the Missouri State Bears 38-11 in Saturday’s Homecoming contest.
The game was the first Missouri Valley contest of the season. However, tougher competition didn’t hinder the Bison. Racking up 434 total yards, the Bison’s potent offense kept up its streak of dominance, effectively mixing the passing and run games.
The first indication that Stick was on his way to a spectacular game was actually an incomplete pass. After Darrius Shepherd tiptoed the sideline for an 18-yard completion on the first play of the game, Stick went right back to the junior wide receiver. Stick uncorked a 50-yard arching pass to Shepherd, who streaked away from one-on-one coverage for what had all the makings of a touchdown. Shepherd, though, bobbled the ball, and Missouri State dodged a bullet.
“It’s good to take a shot and get people to maybe take a step back or two, open things up running the football,” Stick said after the game. “Stuff like that happens; you’re going to miss opportunities. It’s how you respond. I’m really proud of the guys to put it behind them.”
The Bison rebounded from the drop, and six plays later, Stick perfectly dropped a pass into the hands of tight end Jeff Illies for the touchdown that should have already been scored.
It was the first of two touchdown passes for Stick, who completed 15 of 21 passes for 220 yards.
“He had a great day, and he felt really confident in our game plan,” head coach Chris Klieman remarked. Missouri State head coach Dave Steckel even praised Stick after the game, describing him as “one hell of a football player.”
Chasing the Bison almost immediately, the Bears found few answers in the first quarter. Quarterback Peyton Huslig ran the ball with the option play successfully at first, but the Bison’s swarming defense came up with tackle after tackle throughout the contest to stall the Bears’ offense.
The Bison’s running back tandem of Lance Dunn and Bruce Anderson kept the offense humming. Anderson’s 35-yard carry and 26-yard reception set up Dunn’s 18-yard touchdown, which gave NDSU a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
MSU showed some signs of life in the second quarter, stringing together a 66-yard, nine-minute drive to open the quarter, with the help of safety Robbie Grimsley. Grimsley committed a 15-yard facemask penalty on fourth down, which give the Bears a new set of downs. However, the Bison defense would bail out their safety, stuffing Huslig on fourth-and-goal.
While it seemed the Bison had fully seized momentum, Dunn slipped in the end zone for a safety.
“Just a miscommunication,” Stick said about the miscue. “Something that can’t happen. We got to get it cleaned up.”
Huslig made his first errant throw of the night on the ensuing drive, throwing an interception over the middle of the field to safety Tre Dempsey. NDSU’s following drive petered out, and MSU followed up with a 40-yard field goal from Zach Drake.
Missouri State’s brief flash of hope was quickly erased by Anderson’s 64-yard kickoff return. Cam Pedersen split the uprights near the end of the half to add to NDSU’s lead.
The issues for Huslig only compounded in the second half, with the quarterback throwing an interception on MSU’s opening drive. The interception put the final nail in the coffin for the Bears. Dunn ripped off a 44-yard touchdown, his second of the afternoon, after which there was no looking back for the Herd.
The two sides traded turnovers to close out the third quarter. Stick fumbled on a rollout, giving the Bears another chance to strike back. Grimsley atoned for his earlier penalty by intercepting Huslig, the last straw for Steckel, who brought in backup J.T. Granato on the following possession.
NDSU tacked on two more scores in the fourth quarter: one through the air to R.J. Urzendowski and the other on the ground with Anderson.
The junior running back piled up 110 yards rushing and 26 yards receiving to pace the Bison’s balanced offense. Dunn meanwhile added 97 yards rushing of his own, as the Bison rushed for 239 yards on the day.
The Omaha connection of Stick and Urzendowski formed an unconquerable attack that the Bears could not solve. Urzendowski picked up 82 yards on 6 receptions.
“It was part of the plan. Anytime we can get him involved, good things happen. He’s really reliable and did a good job of winning one-on-one matchups all day,” Stick said of his fellow Nebraskan.
Beyond the Bison’s three interceptions, the biggest story for the Bison defense was the return of Nick DeLuca. DeLuca’s status was up in the air leading up to the game because of his knee injury prior to the Eastern Washington game. However, the senior linebacker played and tallied 9 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, leading a defense that was flying all over the field.
DeLuca indicated that it would have been difficult for coaches and trainers to hold him out of the game. “Especially after last year, being out basically the whole season. I really had a will to want to play,” the linebacker said. DeLuca anticipates it will be two to three weeks until he is fully healthy.
Klieman and DeLuca shared a moment while leading the Bison’s charge to the field. The two fist bumped as they strode through the doors of the locker room.
“I was so excited for him,” Klieman stated. “You get your whole senior year taken away last year after a couple of ball games, and then to think it could have happened again. Everybody was excited. I know one thing: you ask our defensive guys what a big lift when No. 49 is playing. It’s a big lift to our team.”
The No. 2 ranked Bison kept pace on the rest of the conference with the victory. Saturday saw Illinois State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota and Youngstown State all claim conference wins.
NDSU will face Indiana State in Terre Haute next Saturday.