McFeely: Lance provides glimpse of Bison's QB future
FARGO — The future, wearing No. 5, streaked through a hole in the North Alabama defense, weaved a couple of times to avoid tackles and outran defensive backs who should have caught him.
Touchdown, Trey Lance.
May there be many more.
There probably will be.
Welcome to the show, kid.
In a game that had North Dakota State football fans restlessly grumbling under their breath at the Fargodome and on social media because the mighty No. 1-ranked Bison weren't crushing newbie Division I FCS North Alabama by 100 points, Lance provided a jolt of excitement that'll provide enough debate material to dwarf Lincoln and Douglas.
When the true freshman from Marshall, Minn.—all 6-foot-3, 215 pounds of him—took off from a crumbling pocket in the fourth quarter after replacing starter Easton Stick and went 44 yards for an electrifying touchdown, the questions started rolling in Bisonville.
Is Lance the No. 2 quarterback? How many more games will he play this season? If starter Easton Stick gets hurt, does Lance become the starter?
Who's faster, Easton or Trey?
I actually asked that last question of both players and they begged out of answering, Stick probably because he didn't want to sound braggadocious and Lance because he wanted to defer to his elder.
"We'll let you guys decide that. I think I know the answer," Stick said. "I don't know. He's got the fresh legs, the young legs."
"It's his birthday today, so he's getting pretty old," Lance said. "But he might still have me at this point."
Saturday was, indeed, Stick's 23rd birthday.
Happy birthday, Easton, but you got upstaged by your protege.
When Lance came into the 38-7 Bison victory with 11:13 left in the fourth quarter, the outcome no longer in doubt, and immediately zipped a 12-yard completion to fellow true freshman Kenneth Channelle, you could see the arm that had some FBS schools trying to land Lance.
And when the quarterback galloped down the left hash, nearly leaving a burn mark in the Fargodome turf, you saw the legs that had Bison coaches drooling.
"That is one thing we feel he has the ability to do," NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said. "When things break down he can tuck it and run. He's 215 pounds ... big, tall guy. Once he saw daylight he took it and ran. I maybe thought he was going to go out of bounds, but he just kept weaving and making a play."
The following is not a misprint: You can thank the NCAA for the opportunity to see Lance make his college debut against the Lions.
A new rule this season allows players who haven't redshirted to play in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. So coaches have been busy giving true freshmen a taste of competition, knowing they will still have them for four full years if they don't exceed four games. In the past, there's no way Lance would've played Saturday.
Klieman said coaches looked at North Alabama as a game in which the opportunity might be there for Lance to get some action. The way the Bison played in the first half, only holding a 17-0 halftime lead, it wasn't a sure thing Lance would get into the game. But when NDSU busted open a 31-0 lead, Klieman put Lance in the game "to get his feet wet."
"It was a crazy experience this past week. They told me I might have an opportunity to get a couple of snaps in the game," Lance said. "Easton helped me prepare a ton and the bye week helped a ton. All my teammates gave me confidence, telling me, 'You can do it. Don't be nervous. Do your thing.' Stuff like that. The guys have been awesome. It's been great."
Lance leap-frogged the quarterback listed No. 2 on the depth chart, Holden Hotchkiss. But Klieman said Hotchkiss, a redshirt freshman, remains the backup.
That's probably true if Stick stays healthy. If the Bison don't have to play Lance in more than four games, they probably won't. But if Stick was forced to miss a half or a game—or more—because of injury, who would Klieman turn to?
The 44-yard sprint seemed to speak volumes. We have seen the future, wearing No. 5, and he is fast. Maybe even faster than the "old man" he'll eventually replace.