Eastern Washington was thrown for a loop when a fifth-string quarterback and a completely different brand of Idaho offense stepped on Roos Field’s blazing red turf Saturday.
This wasn’t the pass-happy Vandals who had clipped the Eagles 28-21 in Moscow on Feb. 27 behind the arm of Mike Beaudry. Quite the opposite.
With Beaudry and backups C.J. Jordan, Nakhil Nayar and Nate Cisco out for unspecified reasons, Idaho was forced to go with Zach Borisch, a former Kamiakin High star quarterback since converted to a defensive back in Moscow.
Idaho kept it simple in the rematch with a physical, run-heavy approach and found success. Borisch totaled 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries for a group that had the ball for 36 minutes, effectively keeping EWU star quarterback Eric Barriere off the field.
But the Eagles’ offense – in a rallying mode for much of three quarters – stepped up and its defense got wiser to Idaho’s scheme and came away with a 38-31 win, snapping a two-game losing streak to the Vandals while extending its home winning streak to 17 games.
Two fourth-quarter turnovers were key for ninth-ranked EWU in the come-from-behind win, including defensive Mitch Johnson’s interception of Borisch on a pivotal fourth-and-1 on the Eagles’ 32-yard line with 1:34 left.
“That was a huge relief,” said Barriere, who totaled 349 yards of offense with two touchdown passes. “I had faith in our defense that they were going to get the stop, but to get one in that fashion with an interception to seal the game, that was huge.”
When Borisch inadvertently fired the pass into Johnson’s hands near the line of scrimmage, the play may have helped send the Eagles to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
EWU, which finished its regular season 5-1, may have earned an at-large berth in the 16-team FCS playoffs that begin April 24. Weber State (5-0) won the Big Sky regular-season title and automatically qualified on Saturday after a 20-15 win against Idaho State.
The Eagles will learn their postseason fate April 18 during the FCS playoffs selection show.
EWU senior running back Dennis Merritt rushed for two of this three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 14-yard run with 6:50 left that gave the Eagles a 38-31 lead.
Merritt’s go-ahead score was set up by Keshaun King’s interception of Borisch.
Borisch, who completed 5 of 11 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, finished the game with interceptions on his final last two drives.
“That’s the antithesis of what they showed us in the first game,” EWU coach Aaaron Best of Idaho’s different offense.
“They did a good job game-planning for the quarterback they had. They were rolling with that all week, and we had no intel, so we made adjustments on the fly.”
EWU, which scored 38 points in roughly 23 minutes of offense, and Idaho exchanged scores most of the game that was tied at 17 at halftime.
Cheney High product and fullback Logan Kendall hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Borisch to start the third quarter, but Barriere answered with a 66-yard strike to Talolo Limu-Jones (140 receiving yards) to knot things up again.
Borisch scored on a 13-yard run to give the Idaho a 31-24 edge before the Eagles turned it on late to preserve their home winning streak and playoff hopes.
“Zach fought hard,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “I thought our coaching staff came up with a really good plan to give us a chance to win and we had a chance to win right down to the end and I’m super proud of our guys.”
Barriere, a dynamic dual threat who had some trouble in the passing the game early, began using his legs more late in the game to move the chains. He finished 18 for 38 for 309 yards and two TDs.
“I thought when we played them the first time there were opportunities I could have used my legs, but I didn’t,” Barriere said. “But after watching film, I saw what I could have done better and tried to apply it to this game, especially in the fourth quarter, because that’s when we were down and I needed to give it my all. “
Petrino had the chore of trying to stop Barriere again.
“I think we did a good job at times, then at times we didn’t contain (Barriere),” Petrino said. “That hurt us. When he broke contain and got out on the edge, that’s when he’s dangerous. That’s when he makes things happen. That hurt us when he did those things”.
Others stepped up for EWU, such as true freshman Efton Chism III, who came up with a spectacular one-handed catch down the sideline on EWU’s late go-ahead drive.
With its offense being limited, Idaho struggled in third-and-long situations and had trouble going to proven receivers like Hayden Hatten (four catches, 16 yards), who caught the winning touchdown against EWU in the Kibbie Dome six weeks ago.
Linebacker Jack Sendelbach and safety Anthany Smith combined for 31 tackles for EWU, which won its fifth straight.
All-American linebacker Christian Elliss had 13 tackles for Idaho (2-3), which wraps up the regular season next week at Northern Arizona.
Best, who missed the season opener against Idaho due to a positive COVID-19 test, likes his team’s resume, now in the hands of the FCS playoff committee.
”It’s an exciting bunch, a committed bunch, and we have done enough on our resume to get a (playoff berth),” Best said.
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