FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Arizona (1-2) cruised its way to a 73-3 victory over New Mexico Highlands (0-3) in front of a crowd of 8,711 to begin its home slate of games in the Walkup Skydome.
"We needed a game like this to get us hitting on all cylinders," said Head Coach Jerome Souers. "Offensively, I was pleased with the way we established control of the game with our tempo. I thought Case (Cookus) made some great decisions and throws to take advantage of the mismatches that were present. We need to work on our running game and improve it, but I thought it got better as the game went along. I was excited to see some of our freshmen step in and compete the way he did."
Cookus, a sophomore quarterback, put on quite a show Saturday, lighting up the Cowboys' defense for seven touchdown passes—tying his career-high for a single game—and 296 yards on 14-for-25 throwing.
Cookus' favorite target, junior wide receiver Emmanuel Butler, also had a special afternoon, nabbing five scores for 99 yards and 16.5 yards per catch. Equally just as impressive, junior wideout Elijah Marks caught five passes from Cookus and turned two of those into scores—averaging 28.6 yards per catch for a total of 143 yards.
"It's exciting," said Cookus on NAU's offensive performance today. "I think there are guys on the team that have shown glimpses of what they can do. We have to get everyone in game mode. Having Emmanuel and Elijah on the outside is good. From here, it's about how to keep it rolling and improving. Without the mental mistakes we can win our games from here on out."
The Lumberjacks were all systems go from the first kick, receiving the ball first and rattling off 28 unanswered points before NMHU managed to send a 25 yard-field goal through the uprights to cut the deficit to 25 with 7:48 to go in the first half. NMHU was able to get deep into NAU territory with the help of an 86-yard catch by Corbin Baxter from quarterback Cody Keith.
The Lumberjacks weren't excited about allowing the Cowboys to score and it showed. Forty-seven seconds later, NAU scored a 43-yard dart from Cookus to Marks in a drive that covered 55 yards in three plays.
Lumberjack junior tailback Corbin Jountti found a clear path into the end zone when he split the NMHU defense and scampered for the eight-yard score, giving the Lumberjacks their first rushing touchdown of the season and a 42-3 advantage.
It was more of the same in the second half for the Lumberjacks, with Cookus finding Butler for the duo's fifth touchdown of the game with 12:42 to go in the third quarter. The score was Cookus' seventh passing touchdown on the day, tying his career-high, and Butler's fifth of the day, tying an NAU record for touchdown receptions in a single game.
Freshman placekicker Griffin Roehler booted a field goal a little over midway through the third, and freshman tailback Joe Logan scored on consecutive carries—the first two of his career—and finished with 172 yards on nine carries.
NAU piled on 686 yards of offense, while its defense held the Cowboys to 235 yards on 64 plays. NMHU was 4 of 18 in third down conversions, as the Lumberjack defense recorded 15.0 tackles for a loss of 79 yards. Leading the way was sophomore cornerback Maurice Davison with seven, while Taylor Powell added six. Junior safety Wes Sutton picked up an 18-yard interception and forced a fumble during action.
The Lumberjacks are back in action at the Skydome next Saturday, Sept. 24, for a highly-anticipated match-up between Big Sky foe Eastern Washington to begin conference play. The Family Weekend game is scheduled for a 4 p.m. kick.