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Gage Gubrud’s record-setting season ends in bittersweet fashion

Eastern Washington  quarterback Gage Gubrud  runs the ball out of bounds during the first half Saturday against Youngstown State. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud runs the ball out of bounds during the first half Saturday against Youngstown State. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud set the FCS records for passing yards (5,160 yards) and total offense (5,766 yards) in a season on Saturday.

Coming after a 40-38 loss to Youngstown State, it was difficult for Gubrud to comment on his accomplishments.

“(It means) nothing right now,” a dejected Gubrud said following the loss. “Nothing at all.”

Little blame can be put on Gubrud – who was 18 of 33 with 353 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions – for the Eagles’ heartbreaking loss. The performance was enough to reach those milestones, but wasn’t enough to put the Eagles over the top against the Penguins.

While the individual records didn’t mean anything right away to Gubrud, the season attached with them certainly does.

A former preferred walk-on, Gubrud won the starting job in fall camp after being the third string last season as a redshirt freshman.

While battling for the starting position, players on the team noticed a difference in Gubrud’s approach, which eventually won him the job.

“His maturity just skyrocketed,” senior wide receiver Kendrick Bourne said. “When he was young, he panicked in certain situations he was in. Now, when he’s in third-and-10, third-and-15, his mindset is completely different and he stays calm.”

Gubrud flashed that maturity at the start of the season in an upset at Washington State, competing 34 of 40 passes for 474 yards and five touchdowns in an upset over the Cougars.

As the season progressed, with his team trailing heading into the fourth quarter in three games, Gubrud helped lead the Eagles to two wins. The only loss was a 50-44 overtime defeat at North Dakota State.

Even in Saturday’s loss, Gubrud conducted a seven-play, 80-yard drive to give the Eagles a 38-34 lead in the fourth quarter before the Penguins snatched the win in the final seconds.

That killer mentality came to Gubrud almost immediately after being named the starter.

“Once he really won that job during fall camp, I think he got in his head, ‘This is my team,’ ” Bourne said.

People were quick to catch onto Gubrud’s talent and success, and the awards started piling in for the McMinville, Oregon, native. He finished the season with three Big Sky offensive player of the week awards, was named the conference’s co-MVP — sharing the award with EWU wideout Cooper Kupp, and is top three in voting for the Walter Payton award, given to the best player in FCS football.

Gubrud is quick to deflect any praise directed toward him to his teammates, particularly his senior wide receivers Kupp, Shaq Hill and Bourne.

“I’m going to miss them a lot,” Gubrud said holding back tears. “There’s no other way to say it.

“Guys like that don’t come around very often.”

Knowing he’ll be without the seniors is a tough pill to swallow for Gubrud. But he’s confident the program can build on what has been established during the seniors’ time with the program.

“We’re going uphill. We’re heading in the right direction,” Gubrud said. “We’re going to keep improving.”

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