For the second time in three years, the No. 18-ranked Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (1-1) have a major hole to fill under center after losing to the No. 6 Eastern Washington Eagles (2-0) Saturday night, 31-26.
Near the end of the first quarter, Lumberjacks star quarterback Case Cookus left the game after a hard hit left him clutching his right arm while he exited the game in the Walkup Skydome.
The injury bares a striking resemblance to 2016, when Northern Arizona fell to Eastern Washington at home and lost Cookus for the season with a broken collarbone. The extent of the injury is currently unknown and Lumberjacks head coach Jerome Souers said Cookus was being evaluated.
“I know they took him to the medical facility to have him checked,” Souers said. “He was in quite a bit of pain, but I don’t really know (his status).
"We knew right then and there we had to get Daniel (Bridge-Gadd) going and get him moving," Souers added.
Cookus’ injury put the ball in the hands of transfer QB Daniel Bridge-Gadd, who played briefly against UTEP last week and has primarily worked with the second-string during practice.
The injury to Northern Arizona’s signal caller added to a list of injured players that were sidelined for Saturday.
Cory Young and Malik Noshi, who Souers had said earlier in the week were probable to play, did not see action, and Wes Sutton, who had been a partial participant at practice Wednesday, went through warm-ups and Souers said they decided to not play him so to not risk aggravating an ankle injury.
Sutton being held out proved to be a substantial absence early in the game for the Northern Arizona defensive backfield.
After capitalizing on a bad snap on the first Northern Arizona play, Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud threw a short, four-yard touchdown pass to Jayce Gilder. Then, after capitalizing on a Cookus interception, Gubrud then threw a 62-yard pass to Nsimba Webster, with Elijah Orr, who had been playing in Sutton’s safety spot, as the defender beat on the play.
Anthony Sweeney came in to Sutton's safety spot and played heavy snaps the rest of the game following the two scores.
On the next drive for Northern Arizona, the team seemed to start to build momentum -- quickly getting into Eagles territory -- but couldn’t convert a third-and-long and elected to attempt a 35-yard field goal by Griffin Roehler while trailing 14-0.
But Roehler’s kick was low and an Eastern Washington defender was able to get his hands on it.
Playing without its starting quarterback, starting running back, one of its top offensive linemen and its all-conference safety made Saturday’s game a bit of an uphill fight for Northern Arizona, and the start it had didn’t help.
In just the first two drives, Eastern Washington gained 135 yards of offense and the two scores came within just under two minutes of each other early in the first quarter.
From then on, Northern Arizona outscored Eastern Washington 26-17 the rest of the game, but the hole that was dug early was too much to climb out of.
“As bad as we played at times, there were times we made some really good plays against a really good team,” Souers said.
In an attempt to bring Northern Arizona back from the large deficit, Bridge-Gadd threw 17 for 29 for 231 yards and three touchdowns -- accounting for all of the team’s TDs.
“Being the two, you know you’re one play away,” Bridge-Gadd said. “You can’t take that 'It’s not my day’ attitude into it.”
Gubrud and Webster contributed to most of the Eastern Washington offense as Webster went for 176 yards receiving on seven catches.
Gubrud finished 18 for 33 passing with 322 yards, nearly half going to Webster as he was 7 for 13 when targeting Webster, and four touchdowns. Gubrud also did damage on the ground, running for 80 yards on six carries.
Conversely, Northern Arizona’s touted wide receiver Emmanuel Butler had four catches for 76 yards, with two catches from each Cookus and Bridge-Gadd. Butler was targeted seven times in the game, twice by Cookus and five times by Bridge-Gadd.
Northern Arizona will be on the road next week when they travel to Missouri to play Missouri State (1-1).
BIG SKY ROUNDUP
S. DAKOTA 43, N. COLORADO 28
VERMILLION, S.D. (AP) — Austin Simmons threw for 462 yards and four touchdown passes, and ran for another score, as South Dakota held off Northern Colorado.
The Coyotes (1-1) rebounded from its 27-24 loss at Kansas State for its 16th consecutive home-opening win and 40th opener at the DakotaDome.
Simmons threw all four TD passes in the first half, each to a different receiver, as South Dakota jumped out to a 34-14 halftime lead. Northern Colorado (0-2) rallied back in the fourth quarter when Jacob Knipp threw two touchdown passes to make it 34-28.
MONTANA 48, DRAKE 16
MISSOULA, Mont. — Drake came up from Iowa intending the handle the crowd, but in the end couldn't quite bulldog Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed.
Sneed fired two touchdown passes 22 seconds apart and added a scoring run as the Grizzlies pulled away from Drake.
The junior threw scoring passes covering 13 and 10 yards to Jerry Louie-McGee and Samuel Akem in the final minute of the third quarter. Akem's touchdown, with 22 seconds left in the quarter, came one play after an interception and 25-yard return by Grizzlies' safety Reid Miller, and made it 31-10.
IDAHO 56, W. NEW MEXICO 10
MOSCOW, Idaho — Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson combined for four touchdowns to take Idaho past Division II Western New Mexico.
Petrino had 151 yards and a score passing and ran for a touchdown. Richardson threw for 95 yards and two scores. David Ungerer had 118 yards receiving with a touchdown and a 65-yard punt return for another score.
S. DAKOTA STATE 45, MONTANA STATE 14
BROOKINGS, S.D. — Taryn Christion passed for four touchdowns and ran for another and Cade Johnson tied South Dakota State's single-game record with four TD receptions to help the Jackrabbits win.
Christion was 21-of-29 passing for 319 yards and Johnson finished with nine receptions for 138 yards.
Montana State (1-1) had just 44 total yards and one first down in the before halftime. The Bobcats, who had eight first-half possessions, went three-and-out seven times with one interception.
OREGON STATE 48, S. UTAH 25
CORVALLIS, Ore. — Freshman Jermar Jefferson rushed for 238 yards and four touchdowns — including a weaving 62-yard score — as Oregon State beat Southern Utah 48-25 on Saturday night.
In his second game, Jefferson notched the third-highest single-game rushing total for Oregon State.
Conor Blount started at quarterback and completed 15 of 22 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown for the Beavers (1-1).