Stick leads NDSU over Jackrabbits, into FCS title game
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Quarterback Easton Stick and the North Dakota State football team gave a rousing going-away present to their beloved coach during his last game in the Fargodome.
Stick ran for 169 yards and three touchdowns and threw for another score to help North Dakota State defeat rival South Dakota State 44-21 Friday night in an FCS semifinal game the players dedicated to Bison coach Chris Klieman, who is headed for Kansas State.
Bruce Anderson added two rushing touchdowns for the undefeated and top-seeded Bison (14-0), who will be seeking their seventh FCS title in the last eight years. North Dakota State led 14-7 at intermission and then won a shootout in the second half.
Klieman has received overwhelming support from the team the community for his move to Kansas State. One of the loudest ovations came with about five minutes left when the big screens at the stadium flashed a picture of a fan holding a sign that said, “Thank you coach.” As the final seconds ticked away, players came up to Klieman and told him that the victory was for him.
“Never underestimate the power of people who live for each other and support each other,” Klieman said. “All the things that happened this week galvanized that locker room.”
Stick, a first-team AP All-American selection, finished with 316 total yards. He was 12-of-15 passing for 169 yards and no interceptions, but it was his bulldog running that put the game away, especially when three Bison backs went out with minor injuries as the game wore on. Klieman said coaches put in more running plays for Stick this week and the quarterback “was not going to be denied” against the Jackrabbits.
“Easton Stick is the best player in college football. Period,” Klieman said. “We’re lucky to have him.”
South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said Stick was the difference in the game, helped by an offensive line that wore down the Jacks.
“It was a great performance,” Stiegelmeier said of Stick. “We know him pretty well obviously.”
Stick, who has accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine game, said he was happy that Klieman called his number so often.
“That was the most fun I ever had playing football,” Stick said.
The Bison amassed 608 total yards, including 439 rushing. Anderson and fellow running backs Wilson and Adam Cofield combined for another 242 yards on the ground. Wilson set the tone for the Bison on the first play from scrimmage in the second half when he ran 78 yards to the South Dakota State 3, leading to a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
“That really changed the momentum,” Stiegelmeier said. “It was a basic play.”
South Dakota State scored a touchdown on its next possession but the Bison got the breathing room they need with Anderson’s two scoring runs of 14 and 41 yards.
The victory capped a whirlwind week for the Bison football program, which lost Klieman to Kansas State and then promoted defensive coordinator Matt Entz to the top job. Klieman will coach the Bison in the Jan. 5 title game in Frisco, Texas.
“I can’t thank (Bison athletic director) Matt Larsen enough for letting me finish this journey with these guys,” Klieman added.
The Jackrabbits are 0-4 against the Bison in the playoffs. They lost for the second straight year in the semifinals.