MISSOULA — Northern Arizona's quarterback Case Cookus had the hit heard 'round the world on Saturday.
His block that was called for targeting James Banks in the first quarter of the game against Montana attracted nationwide attention from Deadspin to SBNation to Yahoo Sports, and so on.
There's a reason for that. It's incredibly likely that Cookus was the first quarterback to be ejected for targeting. The NCAA doesn't keep track of that, so it's nearly impossible to confirm.
On Saturday, Montana coach Bob Stitt said it was the first time he'd seen a quarterback get a targeting call. Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers said the same thing.
"I've never had that happen before, so I have no experience in dealing with that kind of a scenario," Souers said.
Connor Strahm, the reigning Big Sky defensive player of the week, was on the field on the play where Cookus hit Banks, but Strahm said he didn't see the block in question.
"You never know with the refs. I didn't really know what they were thinking," Strahm said on Monday. "It looked like it was targeting from what I've seen after the game. I didn't see it live. (He) kinda stood over James, which I think got the ref's attention.
"Took them five minutes to review it and a long five minutes for him I bet. It was a huge play. We got the short end last week with two different calls and they get their one call."
Because Strahm didn't see the hit during the game, he asked Cookus about it during the review.
"I just asked him if he hit (Banks) in the head," Strahm said. "I asked who his backup was. That was it."
The bigger picture
The automatic ejection part of targeting penalties has been in effect since 2013, in an effort to make football safer.
Montana's Strahm said on Monday that as a defender, he's cognizant of the potential for being flagged for targeting while he's on the field, but he said he still keeps his physicality out there.
"Yeah, you think about it, but also, you still don't wanna slow down," Strahm said. "You have to be smart. You have to know where to hit 'em, when to hit 'em, what to hit 'em with."
Eight players in the Big Sky Conference have been ejected for targeting this season, according to StatBroadcast's play-by-play accounts of every game.
Targeting penalties didn't surface in the Big Sky this season until Week 7 when two players — Weber State's Cardon Malan and Portland State's Braxton Winterton — were tossed.
Four players were ejected in Week 9 — North Dakota's Chuck Flowers, Cal Poly's B.J. Nard and Montana's Korey Alexander and Tucker Schye — and two players were escorted off the field this past week — Idaho State's JonRyheem Peoples and Cookus.
Stitt said he agrees with the targeting penalty's implementation.
"We have a great game. We don't want it to go away," Stitt said. "It can't keep going the same way it is. We have to make it safer. It's gonna have to change a little bit. I know the old school people don't like it at all.
"But, in these times and all the lawsuits and all these types of things with brain injuries, we've gotta try to make it safer and we can't use our heads and our helmets as a weapon. I don't want any of my players using their heads as a weapon.
"I don't ever want to have to go through anything where one of our guys gets injured. I think the rule is good, you just have to be smart about it like Connor said and we can't just lose guys because of a targeting penalty."