FRISCO, Texas – Seven times in the last eight years, various opponents have tried to stand in the way of the green and gold FCS machine known as North Dakota State.
They’ve all been unsuccessful and Eastern Washington was the latest to come up short, losing 38-24 to the Bison on Saturday in the national championship game at Toyota Stadium.
The Eagles failed to win a second championship in their second appearance in Frisco, while the Bison claimed their seventh title, moving past Georgia Southern at the top of the all-time list.
NDSU was led by senior quarterback Easton Stick, a Walter Payton Award finalist who’s now the winningest player in FCS history. Stick finished the game 13-of-19 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for two first-half touchdowns, and tacked on a third the second, allowing the reigning champs to lead from start to finish.
Eric Barriere, brilliant for the Eagles most of the season after replacing the injured Gage Gubrud, completed 12-of-23 passes for 191 yards and two interceptions. He rushed for a 5-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The late scoring scamper made it a seven-point game with under three minutes to play, but the Bison successfully recovered Roldan Alcobendas’ onside kick and Stick pushed the NDSU lead back to 14 points when he kept the ball on an option keeper, sprinting into the end zone from 46 yards out.
Stick’s passing totals were complemented by a team-high 121 rushing yards. Darrius Shepherd was on the end of two of his touchdown passes, catching five balls in total for 125 yards.
The Eagles were led offensively by senior running back Sam McPherson, who carried the ball 18 times for 158 yards and one touchdown. Nsimba Webster had four receptions for 92 yards for the Eagles.
EWU kept pace with the reigning champs in the first half, totaling 184 yards of offense compared to 198 from NDSU and nine first downs to 11 for the Bison. But penalties constantly set the Eagles back – they had six of them for 50 yards – and finished the half with a nearly nine-minute advantage in time of possession.
Stick’s arm has been an essential component to the NDSU offense all year, but it was the QB’s legs that were pivotal in the first half. Twice the senior called his own number, scoring on a 12-yard run in the first quarter before darting around the left edge for a 4-yard score in the second.
Barriere’s first miscue of the game came in the second quarter, when EWU’s QB threw into double coverage and saw his pass fall into the hands of linebacker Levi Jordheim. But the Eagles recovered from their first turnover, the defense held and Barriere’s offense took over again with three minutes to play in the half.
They scored their first touchdown of the game on a fake field goal. Gunner Talkington, EWU’s holder, caught the snap and rather than put the ball down for Roldan Alcobendas, he threw a quick pass to Jayce Gilder for a 4-yard touchdown to cut the NDSU lead to 17-10.
The Eagles and Bison combined to score three more TDs in the third quarter – and they also committed four turnovers, three of which came in the first five minutes of the period.
A second Barriere interception was followed by Stick’s first mistake of the game, and the NDSU QB’s pick put the ball right back into EWU’s hands. But the Eagles couldn’t hold onto it and backup QB Gunner Talkington fumbled on a sack, which gave NDSU possession on the EWU 25-yuard line.
The Bison extended their lead by two touchdowns when Stick floated a 23-yard touchdown pass to Shepherd. EWU running back Sam McPherson escaped for a 75-yard TD shortly thereafter, but NDSU’s cushion was back to 14 points after Shepherd scored on a 78-yard catch-and-run pass from Stick – the longest pass play of the season for the Bison and their signal-caller.
– Theo Lawson/The Spokesman-Review
1:16 – NDSU 38, EWU 24: Easton Stick capped off one of the most successful personal careers in FCS history with a 46-yard scoring dash on third-and-7. The North Dakota State QB kept the ball on a designed option play and sprinted 46 yards untouched to seal up a seventh title for the Bison.
It was the third scoring run of the game for Stick, who finished as NDSU’s leading rusher with 121 yards on the ground.
2:15 – NDSU 31, EWU 24: Eastern Washington’s hopes of a second national championship were all but extinguished when North Dakota State recovered Roldan Alcobendas’ onside kick with just more than two minutes to go.
2:19 – NDSU 31, EWU 24: In the nick of time, Eric Barriere delivered a timely touchdown for Eastern Washington. The QB led four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and capped the series with a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
The drive was made possible because of two long pass plays – a 34-yard connection between Barriere and Talolo Limu-Jones and a 23-yard strike from Barriere to Nsimba Webster.
:23 – NDSU 31, EWU 17: Stick was intercepted for the second time in the third quarter on a third-and-18 pass to the left sideline. Playing in coverage, EWU safety Calin Criner broke in front of the throw and made the interception to give the Eagles the ball back.
In all, it was the fourth turnover of a wild third quarter between the national title contenders.
10:44 – NDSU 31, EWU 17: Then it was NDSU’s turn for a fast score. Less than a minute after McPherson cut the Bison lead to seven points, the reigning champs extended it once again.
Easton Stick escaped pressure from the Eagles and went long to Darrius Shepherd, who hauled in the QB’s pass and outraced his defender for the 78-yard touchdown.
11:40 – NDSU 24, EWU 17: Down two touchdowns, the Eagles needed a quick score and got it from running back Sam McPherson, who broke through a hole and ran 75 yards untouched for an EWU touchown.
That brought the senior RB up to 137 yards on the game, on just 14 carries.
11:52 – NDSU 24, EWU 10: Gunner Talkington’s fumble was a costly one for the Eags. After taking over, NDSU scored within three plays when Easton Stick floated a 23-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Shepherd.
It was the first TD throw of the game for the NDSU QB, who ran two in himself during the first half.
14:21 – NDSU 17, EWU 17: The second half opened with a series of turnovers, beginning with the second interception from Eric Barriere, which gave the Bison excellent field position from EWU’s 14-yard line. But NDSU didn’t capitalize.
On the next play, Easton Stick threw his first pick of the game, giving EWU possession once again. But the Eags kept the ball all of four plays before backup quarterback Gunner Talkington fumbled on a sack, and NDSU’s Stanley Jones recovered.
NDSU 17, EWU 10: Penalties deflated the Eagles much of the first half, but EWU wasn’t totally incompetent on offense, compiling 184 total yards compared to 198 from NDSU.
Easton Stick led multiple scoring drives for the Bison, using his feet to get into the end zone for a 10-yard score in the first quarter and a 4-yarder in the second quarter. One of the nation’s top QBs, Stick threw the ball only eight times in the first half but he completed six passes, and NDSU got 56 yards on the ground from running back Ty Brooks.
The Eagles were boosted by a 51-yard half from Sam McPherson, and two receivers – Jayce Gilder and Nsimba Webster – who’d combine to catch five passes for 93 yards.
EWU quarterback Eric Barrier didn’t throw a touchdown in the first half and misfired on a second-quarter pass that fell into the enemy’s hands. But the Eagles’ defense held on the next drive and Barriere led EWU to the goal line, where a fake field goal pass – from holder Gunner Talkington to Gilder – cut the NDSU head to seven points.
0:27 – NDSU 17, EWU 10: Inside the final minute of the first half, EWU managed to punch in its first touchdown of the game on a fake field goal attempt. Long snapper Curtis Billen fired the snap to holder Gunner Talkington, who flipped a pass to Jayce Gilder for a 2-yard Eagles touchdown.
Officials reviewed the scoring play, but determined the ball crossed the plane before Gilder’s knee hit the turf.
The trick touchdown gave the Eagles offensive life in a game they’d been trailing by 14 points.
4:40 – NDSU 17, EWU 3: The game’s first turnover comes on an Eric Barriere interception. Looking for Jayce Gilder, EWU’s quarterback throws into double coverage and NDSU linebacker Levi Jordheim steps in front to make a clean pick on the Bison 14-yard line.
6:47 – NDSU 17, EWU 3: Penalties continue to kill the Eagles in Frisco. After a 20-yard rush from Sam McPherson and a 12-yarder from Eric Barriere, a holding penalty wiped out Antoine Custer’s run and the Eagles threw incomplete twice more before bringing Roldan Alcobendas out to punt.
8:00 – NDSU 17, EWU 3: The Bison went 75 yards on 10 plays to extend their lead just six minutes after EWU’s field goal closed the gap to seven points. Stick completed a 13-yard pass to Dallas Freeman and went to Lance Dunn for 20 yards to set up NDSU’s second touchdown.
Stick scored it, darting around the left edge from 4 yards out to give the defending champs a 14-point buffer.
13:49 – NDSU 10, EWU 3: Barriere connects deep with wide receiver Nsimba Webster for 39 yards, but EWU’s drive finally stalls after an incomplete pass and another completion for no gain.
The top kicker in the FCS, Roldan Alcobendas, salvages three points from the drive with a 40-yard field goal.
1:47 – NDSU 10, EWU 0: North Dakota State finds the end zone first on a 10-yard scamper from quarterback Easton Stick.
The Bison started the drive with a 50-yard run fro, Ty Brooks to get into the red zone.
3:12 – NDSU 3, EWU 0: EWU forced into a punt on its first drive after several penalties wipe out big gains on the nine-play drive.
A long run from Eric Barriere and a pass to Dennis Merritt into the red zone were both called back due to a chop block and illegal procedure, respectively.
6:50 – NDSU 3, EWU 0: North Dakota State picked up three first downs on its first drive of the game, which lasted 13 plays and more than 8 minutes.
Eastern Washington tightened up on defense in the red zone, forcing the Bison into a 36-yard field goal from Cam Pedersen.
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