Easton Stick and RJ Urzendowski have spent most of their lives playing games together, no matter the sport.
Stick said they were on baseball and basketball teams when they were 8 or 9 years old. They were classmates and teammates at Creighton Prep; in their final high school football game, Urzendowski caught 16 passes from Stick.
They both headed to North Dakota State after graduating and have been instrumental in the Bison’s maintaining their status as the cream of the crop in the FCS.
Now the longtime friends get the chance to play one more game — and win one more national title — together.
The 13-1 Bison will compete for their sixth championship in the past seven years against unbeaten and defending national champion James Madison in the FCS final at 11 a.m. Saturday in Frisco, Texas.
“With this being my senior year, that’s the ultimate goal, to win a championship,” Urzendowski said. “It’s been an incredible experience up here. It would mean a lot to go out on top my last year.”
The Bison have compiled a 53-6 record the past four years, and Urzendowski has been an impact receiver since he arrived. He played as a true freshman and has caught at least 30 passes in each of the past four years. On the school’s all-time charts, he’s fourth in career receiving yards (2,414), fourth in career touchdown receptions (22) and sixth in career receptions (146).
This year, he leads the team in catches (35), receiving yards (589) and TD receptions (eight).
“It’s important to know how he’s going to run routes and how he sees things, but more importantly, he’s just a really good football player,” Stick said of Urzendowski. “He knows how to get open and attacks the football really well. And he’s made some really unbelievable catches this year and his whole career.”
The familiarity between Stick, who has started every game at quarterback the past two years, and Urzendowski shows up with their chemistry on the field.
“We’ve had a lot of time to work together. It certainly helps with all the history we’ve had,” Urzendowski said.
While Urzendowski played right away, Stick watched and learned at first. After a redshirt year, he began 2015 as the backup quarterback. But when starter Carson Wentz went down with an injury, Stick stepped in and went 8-0 as a starter, leading the Bison to the national final.
Wentz returned to start NDSU’s win in the 2015 championship, but now Stick gets his opportunity to start a title game.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” Stick said.
Wentz, who has become a star with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, will certainly be watching the Bison on Saturday. Stick said the two remain good friends, and he knows how much Wentz helped him along the way.
“He was a really good role model for me,” Stick said. “He just had such a good understanding of our offense, and the way he prepared during the week is something I could follow.”
And while Urzendowski climbed NDSU’s all-time receiving charts, Stick has done in the same in the program’s passing categories. With one season of eligibility left, he is third all-time in pass completions (410), passing yards (5,811) and passing TDs (59).
And more importantly, Stick has played some of his best ball during NDSU’s three playoff games. He has already set a school record for TD passes in a postseason (10). He has completed 61.2 percent of his passes in the playoffs.
“Being efficient is something we talk about all the time. We’re going to stay on the field and wear people out,” Stick said. “And the offensive line has raised its level every week.”
NDSU clicked on all cylinders in the semifinals when it led 41-3 at halftime en route to a 55-13 victory over Sam Houston State. The Bison finished with 642 yards of offense; now they look to stay sharp against the toughest defense they’ll face this season.
James Madison leads the FCS in interceptions (31), takeaways (43) and turnover margin (plus-24). The Dukes also have the best scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to 10.7 points per game.
“They’re an elite defense, and they’re playing really well right now. They’re creating a lot of turnovers,” Stick said. “We’re going to have to be really sharp and (take) care of the football.”
Winners of 26 straight games, James Madison kept NDSU out of the national championship game last January. The Dukes won 27-17 in last year’s semifinal in the Fargodome.
“They’re a solid team all around,” Urzendowski said. “They don’t make many mistakes, so we’re just going to have to sustain drives.”
» Urzendowski and Stick aren’t the only NDSU starters from the Omaha area. On defense, linebacker and Millard North graduate Nick DeLuca is tied for the team lead in sacks with 51⁄2 and is second in tackles (70). Junior defensive back and Papillion-La Vista graduate Jalen Allison is seventh on the team in tackles (46), second in pass breakups (six) and third in passes defended (seven). Allison’s started every game the past two seasons.
» Urzendowski is one of two Bison to have played in all 59 NDSU games the past four seasons. They will finish one shy of the school record for games played, which is held by two other Nebraska natives — Omaha Skutt grad Christian Dudzik and Schuyler grad Kyle Emanuel. DeLuca has played in 57 games.
» DeLuca also has been selected to play in the Senior Bowl, which will take place Jan. 27 in Mobile, Alabama.