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KOLPACK: There's nothing more impressive than your starting quarterback going 18-1

VERMILLION, S.D. -- If he wasn't wearing a No. 44 jersey, you would have sworn Matt Plank was having a bad arthritis day the way he was walking in his North Dakota State football uniform. Blood on the knee, the result of a gash from getting spike...

Easton Stick of North Dakota State carries against South Dakota during their football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Vermillion.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Lance Dunn of North Dakota State is challenged by Alex Gray of South Dakota during their football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Vermillion, S.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service
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VERMILLION, S.D. - If he wasn't wearing a No. 44 jersey, you would have sworn Matt Plank was having a bad arthritis day the way he was walking in his North Dakota State football uniform. Blood on the knee, the result of a gash from getting spiked so deep a physician had to clean it out twice.

Saturday's 28-21 win over the University of South Dakota was over for about a half hour and Plank needed more than a locker room to rejuvenate. How about a week off?

That's what the Bison will get when the FCS Division I tournament is announced on Sunday morning. A first-round bye.

Like most games this season, this one wasn't easy. The Bison running game was relentless most of the day with 369 yards rushing. Lance Dunn had a career-high 145.

"It took 11 guys for that to happen," Dunn said. "It's not all about stats or touchdowns. Our main goal was to go 1-0 and now we're conference champs. That will give us some good momentum heading into the playoffs."

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That game-ending momentum was provided by the offense, which did something that it hasn't always done in the last year: close out the game. The Bison got the ball with 4:53 remaining in the game after Chris Streveler's fourth-and-9 pass fell incomplete.

King Frazier gained four yards on the first play. But instead of a short gain forcing a third-and-5 or something, which has been known to happen to NDSU late in games, Dunn ripped off seven yards for the first down.

Third down conversions, I've noticed, are easier when you don't get to third down.

The three senior offensive linemen in Jack Plankers, Zack Johnson and Landon Lechler along with center Austin Kuhnert and left tackle Colin Conner didn't mess around.

"That's something we've been talking about, finish what you started," said head coach Chris Klieman. "We talked about it this morning. Finish what you started in January."

The key play in the final 4:53 came on third-and-5, a seven-yard completion from quarterback Easton Stick to wide receiver RJ Urzendowski, whose diving grab caught the ball an inch before it hit the DakotaDome turf. First down, 2:04 remaining.

"Talk about Easton Stick, he's 18-1, the kid just wins," Klieman said. "The kid just wins and our guys just love him so much because he doesn't get rattled. He throws a pick, big deal, he comes back and throws a couple great balls. How about RJ Urzendowski, do you want anybody else to catch the ball on third-and-5? That was a big time catch."

Frazier got the final first down picking up a third-and-2. On the Bison sideline, the defense was just fine not having to get back on the field.

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"That felt amazing," Plank said. "I remember all of us standing up there and saying, please, two more yards. Once we got it, we were ecstatic. It was fun winning another championship."

This title-clinching win also provided an offensive element that's been missing of late: the ability to effectively throw the forward pass. Stick completed 13 of 20 passes with the biggest news his three touchdown throws, with the prettiest a high loft that Darrius Shepherd ran under for a 40-yard scoring play.

It was the first touchdown by a Bison receiver since the Missouri State game on Oct. 8.

"Shep did a great job adjusting to the ball," Stick said.

Stick was also on the money with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Illies and was pinpoint accurate with a six-yard TD to Connor Wentz. He also had a what-the-heck moment when, on second-and-1 and the Bison driving threatening to go up 35-14 in the third quarter, his deep pass was picked off.

"I didn't mind taking a shot there," Klieman said, "but it was one of those things where either your guy gets it or it goes out of bounds. I heard that on the headset, if it's not there throw it out of bounds."

Oh well, he probably wasn't the only quarterback in America to throw an interception on Saturday. Klieman is right, in the end, Stick is 18-1 as a starting quarterback and any coach in America will take that stat.

"That's not a reflection of me, that's a reflection of the entire locker room and our program," Stick said. "Guys know how to fight for each other."

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On Saturday, the fight with the offense was most impressive in the last 4:53.

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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