Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

EWU, NAU clash in early showdown

Eagles, Lumberjacks battle now for possible November playoff pairing


September 6, 2018

Paul Delaney

Eastern Washington's Nsimba Webster hauls down a third-quarter pass from Gage Gubrud, one of his team-leading 10 receptions for the Eagles who come off a 58-13 season-opening win over NCAA Division II Central Washington.

Two of the teams that preseason pollsters think will vie for the Big Sky Conference football title will meet this Saturday, just two weeks into the season.

Because of scheduling in the expansive Big Sky Conference, however, this game between Eastern Washington University and Northern Arizona at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff is considered nonconference.

But while the game has no bearing on league standings, it could easily play a big part in possible playoff pairings come November.

The two schools did not play in 2017, and despite having identical 7-4 overall records and 6-2 conference marks, NAU got the nod over Eastern for an at-large berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. San Diego throttled NAU 41-10 in the opening round.

EWU comes off a 58-13 season-opening win over NCAA Division II Central Washington where the Eagles had a 677-321 advantage in total offense. Quarterback Gage Gubrud led the way with 337 yards and five touchdowns with a 19 of 23 pass completion performance.

Nsimba Webster finished with a career-high 212 yards receiving on 10 catches and scored twice, the first on the Eagles initial play from scrimmage. Running back Sam McPherson had a career-high 185 yards – the most by an Eagle in five years – and scored once.

NAU, meanwhile, ventured to El Paso, Texas and staged what might be considered a mild upset over the Football Bowl Subdivision UTEP Miners, 30-10. NAU led 17-0 and out-gained the Miners 318-229.

The Eagles enter this week's game ranked fifth in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll for NCAA FCS teams, while NAU is ranked 20th. Eastern is also sixth in the STATS poll of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors, with the Lumberjacks coming in at No. 18.

"We are in for a dogfight this weekend," Eastern head coach Aaron Best said. "We'll be at their place, so the advantage is to them early."

It's a match-up which can be seen on SWX starting at 4:07 p.m. and features two of the most prolific quarterbacks in Big Sky Conference history. Eastern's Gubrud is a three-year senior starter, and has thrown for 79 touchdowns, 8,905 yards in 28 career games and has 9,786 yards of total offense. He's 18-6 in 24 games as a starter and was the Big Sky Conference co-MVP in 2016. 

Northern Arizona's Case Cookus was the 2015 Jerry Rice Award winner as the Freshman of the Year, then was an injury redshirt in 2016 after playing in four games. As a sophomore in 2017 he was the first team All-Big Sky quarterback with Gubrud on the second team.

"When you face experienced, talented and hungry folks, we have to bring the same things to the table," Best said. "They put it on display last weekend in El Paso, and they controlled that game from start to finish."

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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