Seventh heaven: NDSU repeats as FCS champs

FRISCO, Texas — It was always about more than going back-to-back and winning the FCS national championship for a record seventh time this season.

From the start, the 2018 edition to the North Dakota State dynasty sought nothing less than a perfect season. In completing that mission Saturday with a 38-24 victory over Eastern Washington in the championship game at Toyota Stadium, the Bison staked their claim to being one of the best teams in FCS history.

NDSU (15-0) was No. 1-ranked since the preseason and never relented behind a 24-member senior class which was the largest in program history. One of the them, fifth-year senior Easton Stick, accounted for 319 total yards and five touchdowns to help the Bison break what had been a tie with Georgia Southern for the most titles in FCS history.

One of the visuals was captured midway through the second quarter. Stick raced around left end and inside the pylon for his second of three touchdown runs. Not far behind making his away long the sideline, NDSU coach Chris Klieman channeled Tiger Woods with an underarm first pump into the air.

Stick, in completing his career with a 49-3 record as a starter, set the FCS record for wins by a quarterback. He had been tied with former NDSU great Brock Jensen, whose 48th and final victory capped the 2013 title season, when the Bison also went 15-0 as one of now five unbeaten, untied teams to claim FCS national titles.

Klieman, coaching in his final game before heading off to Kansas State, won his fourth national title to tie Youngstown State’s Jim Tressel for the most in FCS history.

North Dakota State never trailed while clinching its 15th all-time national title (three College Division and five Division II crowns preceded FCS seventh heaven). The Missouri Valley Conference champ had to hold on, though, after Eastern Washington pulled within 31-24 on a quick-strike drive, capped by quarterback Eric Barriere‘s 5-yard touchdown run with 2:19 left.

But after NDSU recovered an onside kick and with the Eagles (12-3) seeking to force a punt on 3rd-and-7, Stick faked a handoff and went off right tackle when the defense looked the other way and raced off to a 46-yard touchdown and glory with 1:16 to go.

NDSU led 17-10 at halftime before the game briefly turned wild in the third quarter. In the first 4 minutes, 12 seconds, there were three turnovers and three touchdowns yet only two of the miscues led to scores. Stick sandwiched 23- and 78-yard touchdown passes to Darrius Sheppard (five receptions, 125 yards) around Eastern Washington running back Sam McPherson‘s 75-yard scoring run to push the advantage to 31-17.

In the first half, North Dakota State scored on its first three possessions, including Stick on 10- and 4-yard runs. But Eastern Washington, the No. 3 seed from the Big Sky Conference, pulled within 17-10 shortly before halftime. Holder Gunner Talklington sold a fake field goal before flipping the ball to tight end Jayce Gilder for a 2-yard touchdown with just 27 seconds left.

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