Atascadero alum hauls in 14 catches for 197 yards in 30-21 loss
Friday afternoon, with the eyes of the nation on him, Atascadero alum Elijah Cooks shined brighter than any star on the field in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl as he set Nevada bowl records in receiving yards with 197 yards and receptions with 14 in what might be his final collegiate game.
Cooks, who wears No. 4, and entered Saturday’s game as the team’s leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns with 62/ 729/ 7 respectively and, just as we at the Atascadero News predicated, was in line for a big day as the Wolfpack entered the game with some injuries to their receiving core.
Coming into the game it was obvious that Nevada (7-5) was going to have to score points to win as they were going against Ohio (6-6) and the nation’s 20th-ranked scoring offense with a defense that had just dismissed its defensive coordinator in Jeff Casteel and two of his position coaches at the end of the regular season.
Ohio’s star quarterback Nathan Rourke lived up to the hype leading his Bobcats out to a big early lead up 20-9 at halftime and 30-9 at the end of the third quarter.
However, the Nevada offense, led by their 6-foot-4-inch former Greyhound made a furious comeback and had a chance late in the game. Cooks was the Wolfpack’s entire offense on Friday, which isn’t hyperbole as the junior accounted for 45 percent of Nevada’s total offensive yards, and proved time and again that he is one of the premier jump-ball receivers in the entire country.
Cooks opened the game with a nice 17-yard which was foreshadowing for the feasting that was going to come in the second level of the defense. Eight of Cooks’ 14 catches went for at least 15 yards.
The Nevada offense struggled in the first half and never really found its stride until the fourth quarter when they finally started to click, but it wasn’t quite enough. Trailing 30-9, the Wolfpack started their drive at their own 22-yard line that ended in an 8-yard touchdown catch between Cooks and freshman quarterback Carson Strong. The extra point attempt was blocked, cutting the score to 30-15 with 10:42 to go in the game.
On Ohio’s ensuing possession, Nevada’s Dom Petterson forced a fumble on a strip-sack that brought the offense back out on the field full of momentum. Three plays later Nevada running back Devonte Lee punched it in from a yard out, this time the Wolfpack went for two, but couldn’t covert and trailed 30-21 with 8:42 to go.
With a gust of momentum blowing into their sails, the Nevada defense forced a three-and-out, their first one of the game, and once again the offense was back in business and returned to their most trusted target.
Cooks hauled in two passes for 27-yards in the drive and set up his team inside the Ohio 7-yard line but a poorly executed trick play resulted in a fumble recovered by Ohio but Nevada never gave up.
Even down two possessions, the defense stiffened again, forcing their second consecutive 3-and-out, getting the ball on their own 33 with 2:45 to go in the game. In the biggest moment of his college career, in the national spotlight on ESPN, Cooks again delivered with a 42-yard catch and run, the longest offensive play in the game for either team and was taken down at the Ohio 9.
Strong tried passes to Cooks on 1st and 3rd down as they tried to cut the lead to only one but by that point the Bobcats had finally to give the receiver extra attention.
As a junior, Cooks is now eligible to declare for the NFL Draft but with 26 catches for 348 yards and a touchdown in his last two games with freshman quarterback Strong, it might make sense to come back for a potentially prolific senior year.
Cooks 14 catches and 197 yards were both Nevada school bowl records while the 197 yards ranked second all-time in Potato bowl history.
The junior finished the season as the team leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns and has 100 catches for 1297 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career.