FARGO-Easton Stick was nearly perfect Saturday afternoon, Nov. 11, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
The North Dakota State quarterback completed 11 of 12 passes for a career-high 307 yards to help lift the No. 5-ranked Bison to a 49-14 victory against No. 10-ranked South Dakota in Missouri Valley Football Conference play before 18,623 fans on senior day.
Stick rebounded in a major way after a four-turnover performance the previous week in a loss at South Dakota State. Stick's 307 passing yards marked only the fifth time a Bison quarterback has thrown for more than 300 in the last decade-a list that includes Carson Wentz and Brock Jensen.
"I'm so happy with the way Easton Stick responded," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. "He was going to bounce back. ... I could see a little glimmer in his eye all week."
The Bison (9-1, 6-1 MVFC) clinched at least a share of the conference championship, and now have won at least a share of the MVFC title for seven consecutive seasons. NDSU plays at Illinois State next weekend and can win the league title outright with a victory.
"It's just part of the legacy that we're trying to leave," Bison senior safety Tre Dempsey said. "It's part of the tradition that was handed down. ... We're trying to own it."
Dempsey was one of 20 Bison seniors who played their final regular-season game in the Fargodome. Each senior came out of the inflated Bison helmet one at a time, before giving Klieman a hug and getting loud cheers from the crowd during the pregame.
"Today was a surreal feeling coming out of that tunnel by myself," said Bison senior tight end Jeff Illies, who is from Lidgerwood, N.D.
Stick was nearly flawless against the Coyotes after throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble against SDSU. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound junior completed his first 11 passes, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Connor Wentz, giving the Bison a 49-14 lead with 12 minutes, 54 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. Stick also rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts.
"It was better execution all around," Stick said. "That's what it comes down to."
Klieman added: "I would never doubt that kid because he's a flat-out winner."
The Bison rushed for 340 yards on 46 attempts against the Coyotes en route to 647 yards from scrimmage. Sophomore running back Ty Brooks had a breakout game with 152 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries. True freshman Seth Wilson added 88 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts.
"It was cool how the offensive line played," Stick said.
The Coyotes cut the Bison lead to 21-14 after senior quarterback Chris Streveler scored on an 8-yard touchdown run with 8:24 to play in the second quarter. NDSU answered the game's final 28 points, including three touchdowns in the second half.
"We didn't compete the way I want our teams to compete in the second half," South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson said.
Streveler completed 30 of 47 passes for 232 yards and rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The Bison, however, kept South Dakota out of the end zone in the second half.
"They certainly deserve to be a conference champion with the way they played today," Nielson said.
Stick was at his best near the end of the first quarter with the Bison facing a second-and-16 from their own 22-yard line. South Dakota pressured Stick, who scrambled right before firing to wide receiver Dimitri Williams down the sideline. Williams made a defender miss and raced toward the end zone before he was upended at the USD 1. That play covered 77 yards.
"Dimitri did a really good job staying alive," Stick said. "I gave him a chance and he made someone miss."
Three plays later, Bruce Anderson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Bison a 14-7 lead with 1:35 to play in the opening quarter. NDSU never trailed from that point.
"Our guys showed great resolve today," Klieman said. "I'm telling you this is a tough, tough league to win."
Bison senior offensive lineman Austin Kuhnert left the game in the first half with a knee injury and didn't return. NDSU wide receiver Darrius Shepherd was also injured early in the game with a leg injury and didn't return.
"We talk about it a lot, rise up," Klieman said. "A bunch of kids rose up."