FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Gage Gubrud and Nsimba Webster made plenty of plays on offense again, but it was a nail-biter right down to the finish with the nail in the coffin provided by Sam McPherson.
In a battle of nationally-ranked NCAA Football Championship Subdivision powerhouses, Eastern Washington edged Northern Arizona 31-26 in a non-conference game between Big Sky Conference schools Saturday at the Walkup Skydome.
Gubrud passed for 322 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for a career-high 80, and found Webster through the air seven times for 176 yards. Webster scored twice, and almost a third before his fumble was recovered for a TD by Dre’ Sonte Dorton with 18 minutes left in the game.
Eastern (2-0) used a six-minute scoring drive to open an 11-point lead with 6:10 to play, only to see NAU (1-1) score with 1:51 to play. But the two-point pass conversion fell incomplete, thanks to a quarterback hurry on a blitz by Eagle rover Cole Karstetter.
With that slim five-point lead, Eastern ended up with the ball at its own 4-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, but a 94-yard rush by McPherson – the third-longest in school history behind runs of 96 and 95 yards — gave EWU the ball at the NAU 2. After a pair of NAU timeouts, a knee-down ended the game for EWU as McPherson finished with 161 yards on the ground to help the Eagles out-gain NAU 570-411 in total offense.
“This was a game against a playoff team from last year, and we got a win on their home field, in a playoff-like atmosphere, all in a non-league game against a non-league opponent.” Eastern coach Aaron Best said. “Our team did a great job stopping the two-point play late. We prepared for 7,000 feet and we had a 94-yard run by Sam McPherson to put the game on ice. We’re really proud that we played dogfight football against a great opponent. And the last two minutes we buckled down and made enough plays.”
The Lumberjacks lost standout quarterback Case Cookus with an injury late in the first quarter. Backup Daniel Bridge-Gadd finished 17 of 29 for 231 yards and three scores, two in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles entered this week’s game ranked fifth in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll for NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams, while NAU was ranked 20th. Eastern was also sixth in the STATS poll of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors, with the Lumberjacks coming in at No. 18.
Eastern plays at Washington State on Saturday.