By Eric Doennig
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of Missouri State athletics.
FARGO, N.D. – North Dakota State cashed in on three first-quarter Missouri State turnovers to build an insurmountable lead en route to a 55-0 victory over the Bears Saturday at the Fargodome. Bison quarterback Easton Stick tossed three touchdown passes in the first half, as NDSU built a 41-point lead by halftime to capture a share of its fifth straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title.
NDSU forced four turnovers on the day and limited the Bears to 171 yards of total offense in its first shutout of the season. The Bears (1-10, 0-8 MVFC) converted just 4-of-14 third-down attempts, while the Bison were successful on 6-of-11 tries.
In just over two quarters of play, Stick completed 15-of-20 passes for 189 yards and four touchdowns, while Lance Dunn (125 yards) and King Frazier (77 yards) led the high-powered Bison rushing attack by combining for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Overall, NDSU racked up 412 yards on the ground and 601 yards of total offense.
The third-ranked Bison (9-2, 7-1 MVFC) used the shutdown performance by their defense to set the tone for the afternoon, scoring on the third play from scrimmage after Greg Menard jarred the ball free from Brodie Lambert’s grasp, and Caleb Butler recovered the fumble in the end zone for an early 7-0 NDSU lead.
After the Bears used a pair of Lambert-to-Malik Earl completions and a 15-yard run by Ryan Heaston to move the ball into NDSU territory on their ensuing possession, Brad Ambrosius plucked a pass out of the air at the Bison 40 and returned it 11 yards to set up another scoring drive for the home team.
Stick connected with RJ Urzendowski on an 18-yard pass play to highlight the 11-play drive that Kind punctuated with a one-yard plunge with 5:28 to play in the opening period.
Missouri State’s defense flexed its collective muscle to force the first Bison punt of the afternoon, and Lambert moved the sticks with another strike to Earl for 12 yards. But NDSU’s MJ Stumpf stripped Calan Crowder and Menard pounced on the loose football to hand the ball over to the Bison at the MSU 24. From there, Stick and company methodically marched the ball to pay dirt once again, with the Bison quarterback finding Connor Wentz on a four-yard play-action pass completion to make it a 20-0 contest just 3:13 into the second quarter.
Conversely, NDSU would need just two plays to score on its next possession. Stick hooked up with Wentz again—this time on a 33-yard completion—before Dimitri Williams streaked through the MSU defense for a 27-yard scoring scamper that stretched the margin to 27 points. The Bison would take advantage of another short field following a failed MSU punt attempt, as Stick completed all three of his pass attempts on the 17-yard drive that was capped by Zach Vraa’s leaping one-yard TD grab.
The Bison added to their lead just 13 seconds before intermission, finishing a 77-yard drive—their longest of the afternoon—with Stick’s third touchdown pass of the day, a six-yarder to Bruce Anderson.
NDSU kept the heat on in the second half, as Stick hit Jeff Illies on a 30-yard scoring pass just 52 seconds into the third period to extend the margin to 48-0. Dunn then broke free down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown run.
Heaston paced the MSU offense with 91 rushing yards on 23 carries, while Earl hauled in five receptions for 47 yards.
Dylan Cole led the Bears in tackles for the 11th time in as many games this season, finishing the day with a game-high 14 stops. The junior completed the season with 152 total tackles, good for seventh on the Bears’ single-season list.
Noteworthy: Chris Sullens surpassed yet another Valley punt record, totaling 232 yards on six punts to break Logan Bieghler’s league single-season mark for total punt yardage; Sullens finished his senior campaign with 3,771 punt yards and an MVFC record 12,432 career yards…Deion Holliman etched his name into the MVFC record book, returning three kickoffs a total of 57 yards to surpass Todd Speight’s league single-season mark and finish the year with 1,059 return yards…The Bears recovered a pair of NDSU fumbles, marking the second time in 2015 they achieved multiple fumble recoveries (Oct. 17 vs. Illinois State)…Dylan Cole finished the season with six consecutive double-digit tackle performances…Malik Earl matched a career high with his five receptions.