FARGO, ND–Quarterback Easton Stick passed for three touchdowns in the second quarter to lead North Dakota State to a 31-10 homecoming victory over Illinois State on Saturday, Oct. 1, before a crowd of 18,907 at the Fargodome.
The game was a rematch of the 2014 national title game—a 29-27 NDSU victory. The two schools were meeting for the first time since that January date in Frisco, Texas. The two did not meet in conference play due to the routing Missouri Valley Football Conference schedules that leaves one team in the conference off the schedule on a rotating two year swing.
Illinois State would get on the board first as Sean Slattery knocked in a 23 yard field goal on their first offensive drive of the game.
The Bison followed that up with a 12-play, 78-yard drive that culminated with a 31-yard touchdown run from sophomore wide receiver Darrius Shepherd to put NDSU up 7-3.
The Redbirds would answer on the very next drive when quarterback Jake Kolbe hit junior Anthony Fowler in the left part of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown pass and catch.
Fowler would have the best day of any Redbird player as he collected six catches and 119 yards to go along with that touchdown.
Wide receiver RJ Urzendowski caught a 65-yard touchdown pass on the first play after this Illinois State’s touchdown to erase a 10-7 deficit, and Stick connected with running back Lance Dunn on a 38-yard pass and tight end Nate Jenson from 35 yards to give NDSU a 28-10 halftime lead.
Stick finished 13 of 18 passing for 256 yards and King Frazier led the rushing attack with 20 carries for 76 yards for the Bison.
“I was so happy in the first half with the big plays we were able to get,” NDSU Coach Chris Klieman said. “I thought Easton was on-point and made some excellent throws, and guys made catches that got us that early lead. Defensively, we were kind of on our heels in the first half and probably needed to play a little bit better.”
The NDSU defense held the Redbirds scoreless over the final 43 minutes and limited Illinois State to just 37 yards rushing due in part to six quarterback sacks, including two by defensive end Caleb Butler.
The Redbirds (2-3, 0-2) have lost three straight games for the first time in Brock Spack’s eight years as head coach. NDSU (4-0, 1-0) has now won 23 straight games coming off a bye week.
The Bison led just 14-10 before Aaron Steidl had a strip sack inside the NDSU 10 that led to a four-play, 92-yard touchdown drive. Pierre Gee-Tucker recovered the fumble, and Chase Morlock’s 52-yard reception on third-and-8 set up Dunn’s TD catch on the next play.
“I think that was really big because if they take that in for a touchdown they retake the lead,” Klieman said. “Our defense did a great job there and I think from there on we played pretty solid on defense. But that turnover was huge.”
Illinois State went three-and-out on five of its next seven possessions.
“This scenario is very similar to the other games. It’s growing pains for us,” said Spack. “We made some mistakes to open the door. When you get behind these guys, it’s difficult.”
The game’s last scoring wass with NDSU kicker Cam Pedersen connecting on a 47-yard field goal to widen the Bison lead to 31-10 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.
Gee-Tucker led the Bison with seven tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and the fumble recovery.
Illinois State quarterback Jake Kolbe finished 23 of 35 passing for 285 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fowler that put the Redbirds ahead 10-7 at the 13:06 mark of the second quarter.
North Dakota State plays at Missouri State at 2 p.m. next Saturday, while Illinois State hosts Youngstown State.