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Kolpack: With the Bison, the rich get richer at tight end

Darrius Shepherd of North Dakota State carries against Indiana State during their football game Oct. 7, 2017, in Terre Haute, Ind. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)1 / 3
Lance Dunn of North Dakota State dances along the sideline while carrying against Indiana State during their football game Oct. 7, 2017, in Terre Haute, Ind. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)2 / 3
Bruce Anderson of North Dakota State is upended by the Indiana State defense during their football game Oct. 7, 2017, in Terre Haute, Ind. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)3 / 3

Terre Haute, Ind. — Pick a tight end, any tight end. It doesn't matter with the North Dakota State offense anymore.

Find a guy, any guy, who is about, say 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds who can run, block and catch a pass, and just throw him in the lineup.

"We have so many guys who can do so many things," said Connor Wentz, the elder statesman of the tight ends.

It was the senior Wentz who put an early dagger into Indiana State on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 7, and the Bison went on a seek-and-destroy mission from there to take a 52-0 win at Memorial Stadium.

NDSU's last trip to Terre Haute was the first game without quarterback Carson Wentz in the 2015 season after Wentz injured his wrist the prior week. Two years later, Carson's cousin made sure the name was still in the minds of the Sycamores.

Connor Wentz had three catches giving Bison tight ends 20 receptions and five touchdowns this season. Senior Jeff Illies, junior Nate Jenson and sophomore Ben Ellefson have been taking turns getting into the mix with Wentz and Ellefson combining for three of Easton Stick's four touchdown passes against Indiana State.

South Dakota State has the one-man tight end wrecking crew in Dallas Goedert, but NDSU's crew has been pretty good, too.

"It's a really strong group for us," said quarterback Easton Stick. "You go down the line and there are four, five, six guys that can play. All of them can catch the football and be multiple in our formations and finding ways to get them the football is important."

NDSU hit the Sycamores with the tight end before most of the 4,473 fans had time to figure out just how windy it was in Terre Haute on Saturday. Stick found Wentz from 6 yards out on NDSU's first series and that was just a sign of things to come.

Wentz got wide open from the 4-yard line and Stick easily spotted him for a 14-0 lead. The Bison scored two more touchdowns in the next four minutes and what the tight ends started was looking to be finished before the first half was over.

You almost got the feeling Wentz and Co. could have been targeted by Stick all day.

"Collectively we have so many good tight ends, you can interchange them at any time," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "It makes us more difficult to defend with a multitude of tight ends that can catch the football. This is a tough place to come into and we all knew it."

That brings us to reason No. 2 why the final score was impressive: nobody in the white jerseys appeared to overlook a winless team and look ahead to the battle at Youngstown State next weekend.

It's a sure sign of a mature team. It's one thing to have older players on the team; it's another for the older players to act like older players.

"There's a lot of leadership in that locker room," Stick said. "Guys that have played a lot of football and that's huge for us."

The best evidence of that came on the first series of the third quarter. The Bison probably weren't jumping up and down even though they were leading 24-0 at half. They squandered a game-over opportunity by fumbling one yard from the end zone late in the second quarter and saw the Sycamores almost score before the quarter was over.

So what happens right out of the locker room?

Stick runs 44 yards on the first play. He throws a 17-yard pass to Darrius Shepherd on the second play. Stick hits Dallas Freeman for a 14-yard touchdown on the third play.

Sis. Boom. Bah. Now the game was over.

"The second half we thought we could play better and we did," Klieman said. "We didn't want to run Easton but that was there."

Just like the tight end was there all day. Wentz, ironically, has six career touchdown receptions with five on the road.

"I just I just don't like the dome that much?" he said with a laugh. "No. Right place at the right time."

And the right program with the right offense at the right time.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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