INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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IOWA CITY — North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick “learned from the big redhead.” The “big redhead” being current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, of course.
After the Bison failed on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, then subsequently stuffed Iowa three straight times and forced a punt, NDSU took over for a game-winning drive with 1:53 to go. Even though Cam Pedersen’s 37-yard field goal officially beat Iowa, 23-21, it was Stick who drove the spike through the Hawkeyes’ hearts.
On a designed run to open that drive, Stick ran 29 yards through the middle of Iowa’s not-so-consistent run defense, one among a handful of plays that impressed coaches and players on both sidelines.
“We’re talking about a kid who’s just a sophomore. That’s the thing I’m so impressed with,” said NDSU Coach Chris Klieman. “The stage isn’t too big for that kid. What a great run on that first play of that last drive.”
Iowa put a lot on Stick throughout the game, too.
Stick was sacked three times, hurried twice and hit after throws on multiple occasions. Still, he kept on trucking. Being able to withstand a beating was noticeable — especially given the guys who were hitting him.
Defensive tackles Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata each had big hits on their sacks — specifically, Johnson hit and landed on Stick with all of his 310 pounds — and each of the linebackers got a shot in at one point or another.
“He’s a good player. He was getting banged around a lot,” said linebacker Ben Niemann. “I know Josey (Jewell) got a couple good shots on him, but he’s a good QB. He was running around out there, making plays.”
His running around and making plays led to more than a few breakdowns from the Iowa defense.
On multiple plays, the Hawkeyes’ secondary kept the Bison receivers well-covered, Stick was flushed out of the pocket, yet was able to make positive yardage. More than that, he hit Iowa for chunk plays — plays of more than 10 yards — twice on scrambles. One of those was a 14-yard run on a second and 10.
Linebacker Bo Bower said it’s in those situations Iowa must “know what’s going to happen, anticipate,” but that “we just didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Defensive back Brandon Snyder agreed, citing Stick’s versatility in those situations.
“He’ll beat you with his arms, he’ll beat you with his legs, and there were times we had everybody covered and the play broke down, and he just ended up squeaking out 15, 20 yards,” Snyder said. “We can’t afford that on third downs. We’ve got to get off the field and get our offense the ball. He made a lot of plays.”
Stick finished 11 of 19 for 124 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He ran 11 times for a net of 35 yards — with an asterisk that of his 26 negative yards, 16 of those came on a snap over his head he had to cover up.
Iowa had breakdowns in several ways defensively on Saturday — mostly in the run game — but the way Stick beat them exposed flaws the Hawkeyes didn’t anticipate having.
“He made it very hard on (us in) both things — running and passing,” Jewell said. “Execution, communication — everything overall (was off for us). They’re the ones who made it happen. That’s why they won.”
BISON TO THE FBS?
Iowa’s first loss to an FCS team came in a game that felt nothing like an FBS-FCS matchup. The Bison have wins against three Big 12 teams (Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State) and two Big Ten teams (Minnesota and now Iowa) since 2010.
With those wins and five straight FCS national championships, NDSU Coach Chris Klieman was asked if NDSU should be an FBS program.
Klieman likes where the Bison are just fine, thank you very much.
“We like it right where we’re at in the FCS,” Klieman said. “It’s a great thing. We have a playoff system that allows a lot of people a lot of opportunities. You can lose a game or two and still have an opportunity to win a national championship. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
It also might be more profitable for NDSU to stay where they are.
Iowa paid NDSU $500,000 to come to Kinnick on Saturday, and the Bison have made a total of $2,175,000 from those six wins against FBS teams, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell. The Bison have two future games currently contracted. They travel to play Oregon in 2020, and will go to Colorado in 2024.
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