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Mason Petrino, Jeff Cotton help Idaho shock 11th-ranked Eastern Washington 35-27

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 21, 2019, 8:50 p.m.

Idaho wide receiver Jeff Cotton celebrates during the first half against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho wide receiver Jeff Cotton celebrates during the first half against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Eastern Washington hit a brick wall, one layered with its continued problems and stacked by Idaho’s physicality.

They culminated Saturday at the Kibbie Dome, as Idaho – a 20-point underdog and often-maligned program – bullied the 11th-ranked Eagles in a 35-27 upset, one of the most shocking Vandal victories in recent history.

Or was it the worst EWU loss of the red-turf era?

“I’ve worn this jersey for quite some time,” said EWU head coach Aaron Best, whose 1-3 start is the worst for the Eagles since 2011. “And that first half was probably the worst half of football I’ve ever seen since losing to Sam Houston State in 2004.”

EWU’s struggling defense was carved up by Idaho’s hard-running, dink-and-dunk offense, which marched to 28-0 halftime lead, exceeding its yards-per-game average of 315 in the first two quarters (329 yards).

The coach’s kid spurred Idaho’s first win over EWU since 1999.

Mason Petrino completed 22 of 31 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns and one rushing score for Idaho (2-2), which leaned on a stout running game (223 rushing yards).

Freshman Aundre Carter accounted for two first-quarter touchdowns, plowing through a series of EWU defenders at the goal line to give Idaho a 14-0 lead.

Jeff Cotton – who gave EWU trouble a year ago when the Eagles ran past the Vandals 38-14 in Cheney – had his way with the Eagles’ secondary, hauling in 10 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.

A year after finishing 4-7 in its return to the Football Championship Subdivision, Idaho, picked eighth in the preseason Big Sky Conference poll, believes it made a statement.

“Watching film thought the week, we knew this team wasn’t the team they were last year,” Cotton said. “We knew our receivers could dominate their defensive backs.”

The Vandals executed to their game plan to perfection for most of the afternoon.

Moving the chains and eating clock kept electric EWU quarterback Eric Barriere and his cache of weapons off the field, but EWU’s offense – which ranked seventh in the country in total yards – was held in check when it had its opportunities.

The Eagles were held to 103 yards at halftime before flipping the switch in the second half, totaling 460 yards and closing the gap late.

EWU, the 2018 national runner-up widely favored to win the Big Sky this season, scored four second-half touchdowns.

Barriere, who was overthrowing his receivers early in the game, hit Dre’ Sonte Dorton on a 30-yard touchdown connection with 45 seconds left for the final margin.

Many of the problems that haunted EWU last week in its 49-45 loss at FCS power Jacksonville State resurfaced.

Its offense sputtered in long stretches, coughed up two first-half turnovers and was stopped on a fourth-and-goal situation in the third quarter.

Its defense, which is yielding 40 points per game, went long stretches without stops and continued to get burned in the intermediate passing game.

The Eagles’ pass-rush problems also continued, as they totaled just two quarterback hurries and a single sack.

So what’s holding back EWU’s defense, one of the finest units in the Big Sky last season?

“I don’t think there’s any problem; I think we have to find our identity,” EWU defensive tackle Dylan Ledbetter said. “We’re getting there. We played a good, physical Idaho team and showed our true colors in the second half.”

EWU’s offensive line, featuring multiple All-Big Sky selections, is also experiencing lulls, yielding three sacks vs. the Vandals (13 total this season).

Barriere, a Walter Payton Award candidate, looked like the player he was last year when he gashed the Vandals with his feet and legs, but it wasn’t until the Vandals seemingly took their foot off the pedal.

He had a pair of rushing touchdowns, a scrambling touchdown pass to Jayson Williams and the deep strike to Dorton, but the damage was already done.

“We didn’t do what were were suppose do to do,” said Barriere, who completed 28 of 46 passes for 365 yards. “Penalties, not taking the easy stuff. A lot of stuff went wrong, but I think we’ll be able to fix it.”

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