MOSCOW, Idaho – In well-matched opponents, the challenge of winning multiple times seems to increase exponentially with the number of competitions.
So, is it going to be twice as hard for Idaho to beat Eastern Washington Saturday? The 2-2 Vandals started their season with a 28-21 comeback win against the Eagles (4-1) on Feb. 27. Idaho trailed by as many as 14 points but pulled ahead in the final minute on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mike Beaudry to Hayden Hatten.
Since then, Beaudry has shared time at quarterback with freshman C.J. Jordan and redshirt sophomore Nikhil Nayar.
Following his season debut at wide receiver, Hatten, a former tight end, has become the Vandals’ go-to pass catcher, averaging 8.8 receptions per game for 115.5 yards. He has also caught three touchdowns.
“I’m proud of how I am doing right now,” Hatten said. “Of course, I can always get better. “If I’m the guy and I’m targeted, I plan on making the catch. I give a lot of credit to the guys who are giving me the opportunities.”
That includes the coaches who are calling his number and his three quarterbacks who are using their disparate talents to get him the ball on target and on time.
“They are all great players. They all do their own thing very well,” Hatten said. “Catching a football is catching a football. It doesn’t matter whose hand it comes from.”
As dominant in the first matchup with EWU as any Vandal was Tre Walker, who made 15 tackles and had a sack as a linebacker and also rushed for 27 yards on five attempts. The ebullient Walker appears to enjoy playing football and talking about playing football in equal measure.
“I definitely want to try to get some touches in this game, for sure,” he said of contributing again on offense.
But the Vandals’ goal remains limiting the production of the Eagles’ Eric Barriere, who passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception, and the Vandals held him to minus-16 yards rushing.
“Stopping their quarterback is still the main goal,” Walker said. “He’s still their main guy.”
In the first meeting, Walker worked himself into a leg cramp that put him on the sideline for a while, so he welcomes any help from a UI linebacker rotation that has grown deeper with each game.
“We have a lot of people on scholarship for a reason,” he said. “It is time for them to step up and step into that spotlight.”
Idaho’s familiarity with the Eagles will have a big part in writing the storyline of the rematch, Walker said.
“The key to playing somebody twice is understanding they’ve got film on us and we’ve got film on them,” he said. “It comes down to who critiques who hardest and who is ready to play.”
This thinking is in line with Vandals coach Paul Petrino, who has a depth of experience in playing opponents twice in a season. His father, Bob Petrino Sr., coached at Carroll College, and Paul Petrino played and was an assistant at Carroll when the Frontier Conference members regularly played league foes twice.
“I was around it a lot as a coach’s kid, as a player, then as a coach,” Petrino said.
“You have to come up with a few things that are different. You know each other a lot better, so outscheming each other maybe doesn’t happen as much, with the exception of a few new wrinkles. So, it really comes down to execution.”
While the Vandals certainly want to put another dent in EWU’s 4-1 record, that record and the Eagles’ Football Championship Subdivision No. 9 ranking work in Idaho’s favor in its effort to make the FCS playoffs, Petrino points out.
If the Vandals can sweep the season series, they, EWU and UC Davis would all have two losses.
“And we would be the only one to beat a top-10 team twice,” Petrino said.
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