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Analysis: Idaho makes a Big Sky statement with upset victory of perennial conference power Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 21, 2019, 8:25 p.m.

Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino carries the ball for a touchdown against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino carries the ball for a touchdown against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – The Idaho team that was supposed to show up last year and run roughshod over the Big Sky Conference finally arrived.

The Vandals may be two years removed from the Football Bowl Subdivision. But against Eastern Washington University, which was in the Football Championship Subdivision title game a year ago, Idaho physically dominated at nearly every position on both sides of the ball in the first half, and overwhelmed EWU 28-0.

When the Eagles realized they were still the Eagles after halftime, the Vandals still played well enough with them to ensure a 35-27 win.

Running? The Vandals rushed for 223 yards, led by Aundre Carter’s 75 yards on 14 carries with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. On both scoring runs, he dragged three or more Eagles across the goal line.

“Watching Aundre run over three people in the secondary, you can’t help getting a little hyped,” Idaho senior All-America guard Noah Johnson said.

Blocking? Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino said, “I had a couple of pockets I’ve never had in my career here.”

Petrino went 22 of 31 for 240 yards with an interception. He threw two touchdown passes, one to Jeff Cotton, and ran for another.

“You could feel our O-line kind of taking control of the game,” he said.

In Idaho’s nomenclature, blocking an opponent off his feet is a Vandal block. Johnson said his teammates, especially fullback Logan Kendall, were generating them in multiples.

Receiving? Cotton led Idaho with 10 catches for 110 yards and the touchdown.

“We knew these guys weren’t the team they were last year,” Cotton said of the Eagles, who rolled the Vandals 38-14 in Cheney in 2018. “Our receivers could dominate their defensive backs. I was feeling, for the most part, we were having our way with them. We just knew from the jump we were tougher than these guys. They couldn’t really cover us, and they weren’t very good tacklers.”

Defense? Eagles quarterback Eric Barriere posted an impressive stat line on 28-of-46 passing for 365 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But he was also sacked three times and threw a costly interception near the end of the first half to keep the Eagles off the scoreboard.

Linebacker Christian Elliss, who made that pick, said he was prepared, having seen tape of the Eagles hitting the route over the middle.

“Every single time, that guy started to bend,” Elliss said of the receiver he was covering. “I watched the quarterback’s eyes. I thought, ‘Oh, if he throws this, it’s not going to be good for him.’ ”

Sending EWU to the locker room scoreless was big for the Vandals, head coach Paul Petrino said.

“To stop that offense like they did in the first half was pretty awesome,” he said of Idaho’s defense.

“We outplayed them (in the first half) at every single position,” he added. “We played good enough to win in the second half. We played great in the first half. I wish there wasn’t a halftime.”

Elliss said Idaho came into the game expecting victory.

“We knew from the get-go we were going to get on them. There was never a doubt in our mind we could dominate them,” Elliss said.

Before the game, Idaho commemorated a pair of players, Jace Malek and Colin Sather, and football operations director Mark Vaught, who all died of cancer in recent years.

“We got a little bit of power from those guys out there today,” Vandals coach Paul Petrino said.

“I really think they were with us today,” Mason Petrino said. “(Malek and Sather) were physical, tough. The way we played describes those two guys.”

The win doesn’t count as a conference game. But while the Vandals, who evened their record at 2-2, might have arrived a year late, they are ready now to put the Big Sky Conference on notice.

“We’re playing with swagger and confidence right now,” Mason Petrino said. “That should scare some people in our league.”

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