Bison defeat Illinois State to start Missouri Valley play in style
FARGO -- Illinois State was threatening to take the lead back early in the second quarter when the North Dakota State defense made a game-shifting play.
FARGO - Illinois State was threatening to take the lead back early in the second quarter when the North Dakota State defense made a game-shifting play.
Bison defensive tackle Aaron Steidl caused a fumble that linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker recovered with the Redbirds near the goal line. Four plays later, No. 1-ranked NDSU was in the end zone to cap a sequence that sparked a 31-10 victory Saturday in Missouri Valley Football Conference play at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
"Anytime you get a big play like that or a turnover, that sparks everybody," Gee-Tucker said.
"That's a big 14-point change," said Redbirds head coach Brock Spack. "They turn your mistakes into a touchdown, and that's what really good teams do."
Including that fumble, the Bison (4-0, 1-0 MVFC) held Illinois State (2-3, 0-2) scoreless on its last 10 possessions. That defensive play coupled with a sparkling passing performance from sophomore quarterback Easton Stick boosted the Bison to victory in their conference opener.
Stick was particularly sharp during the first half, completing 8 of 10 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Stick finished with 256 passing yards.
"The kid is a really good player, and he continues to get better," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said.
The Bison defense got better as the homecoming afternoon wore on against Illinois State. The Redbirds scored on two of their first three possessions, taking a 10-7 lead after quarterback Jake Kolbe zipped an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Anthony Fowler with 13 minutes, 6 seconds to play in the second quarter.
The Bison held a 14-10 lead when the Redbirds faced a third-and-goal at the NDSU 5-yard line. On the play, Steidl hit Kolbe and knocked the ball loose behind the line of scrimmage. Gee-Tucker hopped on the loose ball at the 8 with 10:47 to play in the first half.
"That turnover was huge," Klieman said.
"A terrible decision by me, I've just got to throw it away," added Kolbe, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown. "A very critical mistake. I can't let that happen again."
NDSU converted that miscue into points four plays later. On third-and-8, Stick dumped the ball to running back Chase Morlock on the middle screen that amassed 52 yards, moving the ball to the Illinois State 38. On the next play, running back Lance Dunn hauled in a touchdown pass from Stick, getting behind an Illinois State defender in the middle of the field and the Bison led 21-10 with 8:43 to play in the second quarter.
Stick added a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nate Jenson that gave the Bison a 28-10 lead with 27 seconds to play in the first half.
"Explosive plays are always huge," Stick said.
The Bison defense took it from there, limiting Illinois State to 19 yards in the third quarter and 102 for the second half. NDSU sacked Kolbe six times, the most sacks by a Bison defense since 2013.
"Our defense, we were on our heels a little bit in the first half," Klieman said. "I was so pleased with our defense in the second half."
The Bison had five different players record sacks. Sophomore defensive lineman Caleb Butler had two. Gee-Tucker, Steidl and defensive ends Jarrod Tuszka and Greg Menard added one sack each. Klieman said pass-rushing balance and keeping the defensive line fresh will be important as the season progresses.
"We rotated an awful lot of guys on the defensive line," Klieman said. "I think teams are going to try and throw it against us and spread us out."