Wentz leads NDSU to fifth straight FCS national championship
Frisco, TX - He first came before the cameras in Frisco on Friday wearing plastic-rimmed glasses that made Carson Wentz look more like the 4.0 student he is than a quarterback that will forever be enshrined in North Dakota State football history. On Saturday, he showed the rest of the FCS why Twitter was enthralled with his NFL prospects.
He had the first-game jitters, he said, and that was evident in the minutes leading up to kickoff against Jacksonville State (Ala.). He was jumping around. Sprinting. But then again, this was it for a fifth-year guy whose senior season was cut in half with a broken bone in his wrist.
"Just excited," he said. "The emotions. Anxiety. Sleeping last night was a pain in the butt, but I love this game so much, and I'm just thankful I got another opportunity with these guys and go out the right way."
He sure did.
It wasn't the greatest of games statistically, completing 16 of 29 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions. But the mere presence of the 6-foot-6, 232-pound two-year captain was worth more than that, and that was a big reason the Bison will forever be a historic part of this college football question: Which team became the first to win five straight national titles in the modern era?
While the rest of the team flew the charter back to Fargo later Saturday, Wentz headed to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to catch a flight to California. The next phase had already started with workouts to prepare himself for the Senior Bowl.
And then the NFL combine. And then the NFL draft.
"But I've got to enjoy this one first," Wentz said.
He was named the game's Most Valuable Player, not so much with his timely completions, but also for leading the Bison in rushing with 79 yards on eight carries. His 11-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter was a thing of athletic beauty, beating a smaller and more seemingly quicker Gamecocks defender to the corner pylon.
That made it 17-0, and the Bison were on their way. It came one series after Wentz threw an 8-yard dart for a touchdown to tight end Andrew Bonnet.
It was a culmination of a performance that probably started the day after he found out he was injured. There was no feeling sorry for himself; on the contrary actually. He was the first guy to start coaching backup Easton Stick as the starting guy.
The injury was a bugger. The should-he-play-or-should-he-sit game wasn't truly resolved for offensive coordinator Tim Polasek until Wednesday. Until then, Polasek still had at least a couple of series for Stick in the game plan.
"He said, 'Coach, call it like you need to call it," Polasek said, referring to not limiting the playbook for Wentz. "When he looked at me with conviction and said, 'Coach, call it all,' I knew it."
He called it all, and Polasek coached it all, although he paused to catch himself at one point during the game. This was his last time calling plays for one of the greatest quarterbacks in Bison history after all.
"He got back and a couple of throws that weren't great, and I said, 'Carson, we're expecting more out of you,' " Polasek said. "I just thought maybe it's one of those moments I should just enjoy of being around him. When you're calling plays for Carson, he's not going to put you in a bad situation."
One of the most heroic performances by a Bison quarterback was when Brock Jensen was so sick during the Georgia Southern playoff game in 2013 that he needed intravenous-fluid therapy. Wentz's performance was heroic in the sense the general came back after an extended absence to lead the troops.
"A lot of people were doubting him through the injury the past few weeks," said Bison receiver Zach Vraa. "I don't know how many times I got asked, 'Is he going to play? Is he going to start?' In the back of my mind, he's a fighter. We knew he was going to come out and do his job today."