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Strong-armed showdown: Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud, Northern Arizona’s Case Cookus set to air it out

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 7, 2018, 10:42 p.m.

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – Two of the country’s top FCS quarterbacks share a conference, gaudy statistics and the amount of Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school: zero.

Eastern Washington senior Gage Gubrud and Northern Arizona junior Case Cookus haven’t been slighted since.

When the All-Big Sky Conference QBs meet Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Skydome in an early-season Top 25 tilt, they’ll be airing it out at a high frequency and with respective skill sets.

At 6-foot-4, the laser-armed Cookus often gets the ball in space to a stable of experienced receivers, including NFL Draft prospect Emmanuel Butler.

“He’s smart back there and he likes his matchups,” EWU corner Josh Lewis said. “He’s good at throwing Butler that backdoor ball. He’s just in sync with his receivers. The toughest part for us as a secondary, is they have chemistry over there. That’s something they rely on.”

Gubrud also lauded Cookus’ decision making.

“I think he’s a good passer. He’s very accurate and makes good decisions,” Gubrud said of Cookus, who has just 13 career interceptions in 28 games.

EWU head coach Aaron Best likes Cookus even more as a person, comparing him to EWU’s congenial all-time great, Cooper Kupp.

“He’s a Kupp-ish kind of guy in that he’s a better person than he is a player, and he’s a darn good player,” Best said.

Gubrud is the more versatile commodity in the frame of EWU’s explosive offense. When he isn’t spreading the ball around, he’s calling his number on read-option plays, and has churned out close to 900 career yards on the ground.

Not that Cookus doesn’t like taking it to defenders. In a game at Montana last season he made national news last season for being the rare quarterback ejected for targeting.

The Walter Payton Award nominees rank second (Gubrud: 8,905) and fifth (Cookus: 7,908) in the country in career passing yards.

Gubrud and Cookus hung out in Spokane in July at Big Sky Conference media days, where Cookus said he got to know the All-American Gubrud on a more personal level.

“On the field, he’s a very confident guy and trusts his receivers,” Cookus said. “He’s a good competitor and a great guy.”

The last Gubrud-Cookus showdown was in 2016 in Flagstaff, a game in which Gubrud totaled nearly 500 yards with his arm and legs in a 50-35 EWU win. Cookus passed for 245 yards and three scores, but was pulled early in the third quarter after suffering a broken clavicle. He missed the remainder of the season and used a medical redshirt.

In 2015, when Cookus was the FCS Freshman of the Year, he totaled 224 yards and a touchdown in a 52-30 NAU win in Cheney. Gubrud was a backup.

Longtime NAU coach Jerome Souers went to high school with Gubrud’s aunt in Eugene.

“Those two QBs are about as good as it gets at this level,” Souers said. “They’d be good at many places.”

Gubrud finished 19 of 23 for 337 yards and five touchdowns last week in a 58-13 rout of Central Washington, his 17th 300-yard game. Cookus Cookus was 19-of-26 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-10 win at UTEP.


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