Stick breaks touchdown record, No. 1-ranked Bison roll at South Dakota
VERMILLION, S.D. — North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick had a big first half that he capped with a historic touchdown pass, linebacker Jabril Cox nabbed another interception and the Bison took a stronghold on the Missouri Valley Football Conference title race.
No. 1-ranked NDSU scored 35 points by halftime to spark a 59-14 victory against South Dakota on Saturday at the DakotaDome before 9,589 fans.
The Bison (8-0, 5-0 MVFC) remained unbeaten and built a two-game lead over Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and Western Illinois in the league standings with three games remaining in the regular season. NDSU has won at least a share of the previous seven conference titles.
“We’re sitting in a good position, but we’re one loss away or one bad week away from our backs being against the wall again," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. “We try to block out the outside noise.”
Stick made plenty of noise in the DakotaDome, especially in the first 30 minutes.
He completed 9 of 13 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, also adding a short touchdown run. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound senior zipped a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Ellefson to give the Bison a 35-7 lead with 36 seconds to play until halftime. That scoring pass was No. 73 in Stick’s career, surpassing Brock Jensen (2010-13) for the school record.
“It means I’ve been really fortunate to play a lot of football here," said Stick, who finished with 176 passing yards against the Coyotes.
Stick also rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns, including 47-yard scoring burst in the third quarter that gave the Bison a 42-7 lead with 6 minutes, 32 seconds to play in the quarter.
“He makes important plays at critical times," South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson said. “He’s developed really into a complete quarterback and he’s got a nice supporting cast.”
Ellefson was one of Stick's favorite targets in the first half, catching two passes for 21 yards, both touchdowns.
“It comes down to making a play and making the most of the opportunities presented to you," said Ellefson, from Hawley, Minn.
The Bison erupted for 21 points in the opening quarter. Stick and Ellefson started the rally, connecting on a 15-yard score for a 7-0 lead with 8:17 to play in the first. Stick added a 2-yard TD run less than four minutes later. He then tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to fullback Brock Robbins that gave NDSU a 21-0 lead with 2:04 to play in the first quarter.
Cox set up the Robbins' touchdown catch with an interception by picking off South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons and returning it 34 yards to the USD 23-yard line. The 6-foot-3, 231-pound sophomore leads the Bison with four interceptions this season.
“From the start I thought our guys had great focus, great energy," Klieman said.
The Bison gained 319 yards in the first half on 28 plays. NDSU junior Ty Brooks bolted for a 35-yard touchdown run that gave NDSU a 28-0 lead with 8:31 to play in the second quarter.
The Bison rushed for 158 yards by halftime on 15 attempts. They finished with 384 rushing yards on 48 attempts, averaging 8.0 yards per carry. Senior running back Lance Dunn led the way with 114 yards on 12 rushes.
“We need to continue to improve," Klieman said. "We’re only through eight games.”
The Bison held a nearly 14-minute edge in time of possession, finishing with 560 yards. The Coyotes finished with 336 yards on 68 plays.
“We dug ourselves a hole for the beginning and we knew that we couldn’t do that," said South Dakota defensive lineman Darin Greenfield. “NDSU is a really good football team. Don’t take that away. They do the little things extremely well. That’s what we’re trying to work for.”
Bison senior cornerback Jalen Allison left the game in the first half with a knee injury and didn't return. Klieman said the initial prognosis is that it wasn't an ACL injury.
The Bison host Youngstown State next Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
“I think the important thing is finding a way to get better every week," Stick said.