Eastern Washington defensive tackle Dylan Ledbetter walked around with a small video camera at Big Sky Conference media days in July, jokingly interviewing some of the league’s finest players.
He was quick to rib Northern Arizona’s veteran quarterback.
“Here’s Case Cookus, in his ninth year of eligibility,” Ledbetter exaggerated. “This is his 17th appearance at Big Sky media days.”
Not his fault.
The sixth-year senior’s eligibility would have exhausted in 2018, but Cookusbroke his collarbone early in the 2018 season, a 26-21 EWU win in Flagstaff, Arizona, forcing Cookus to take a medical redshirt.
EWU also handed Cookus a season-ending broken collarbone early in the 2016 season, a 50-35 EWU win in Flagstaff.
“If you could stop breaking my collarbone, that’d be great,” Cookus fired back at Ledbetter.
“I’m 35 years old,” he joked.
The last time Cookus played a full game against the Eagles, he guided the Lumberjacks to a 52-30 win at Roos Field, a rare conference home loss for EWU.
Because of those injuries, the 2015 FCS Freshman of the Year and two-time Walter Payton Award candidate is still in college and leads the nation in passing yards per game (349).
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Cookus and the Lumberjacks (4-4, 2-2 Big Sky) return to Roos Field for the third time in five years on Saturday to face EWU (3-5, 2-2), hoping a late-season surge can send the visitors to the FCS playoffs.
Cookus has completed 181 of 311 passes for 2,795 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s two career touchdown passes short of becoming the second Big Sky quarterback to reach 100.
“It’s no secret that they like to throw the ball, and Case Cookus is a great player who can sling the ball around,” EWU safety Calin Criner said. “We watched him make a throw on film, a throw a lot of quarterbacks can’t make. He’s not going to be like a lot of the quarterbacks we’ve faced.”
EWU head coach Aaron Best has seen plenty of Cookus, whose favorite targets are Brandon Porter (719 yards), Stacy Chukwumezie (660) and Hendrix Johnson (630)
“They’ve got a capable quarterback, one of the best in the nation,” Best said. “A guy who’s been around the block and seen pretty much everything under the sun defensively over the years. Very heady.”
EWU is looking to extend its school-record 12-game home winning streak. Their playoff hopes are all but gone, but the Eagles hope to win out and earn the program’s 13th consecutive winning season.
The Eagles and Lumberjacks are both winless on the road this season, both facing their toughest Football Championship Subdivision foes away from home.
EWU has fallen to three FCS teams that are currently ranked (Jacksonville State, Sacramento State and Montana) on the road. Northern Arizona has fallen to ranked Illinois State, Montana State and Weber State away from Flagstaff.
While NAU features the country’s leading passer and top passing team, the Eagles feature the sixth-ranked passer in Eric Barriere (2,504 yards), whose sixth-ranked offense is averaging 481 yards a game.
EWU will look to attack an NAU defense that has yielded 37.6 points a game. EWU is giving up 35.7 points.
The Lumberbacks, led by first-year head coach and former Washington State assistant Chris Ball, have been outscored 89-17 in the second half in FCS road games this season.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Ball said. “(EWU is) extremely talented, had a few road bumps, but they’re well-coached and picked to win our league.
“They have a great quarterback and a great tradition. I can’t remember the last time EWU was 3-5, so they’ll be a bit wounded and will be coming out fighting. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
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