MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho coach Paul Petrino has touted the Vandals’ depth as the best since the 2016 team that won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
That assertion was tested early against Eastern Washington. Idaho had four injured starters on the bench by the close of a tight first half that saw the Vandals trail by 14 points before coming back to tie by halftime.
In the final two quarters, though, veterans rallied and newcomers emerged in Idaho’s season-opening 28-21 win against Eastern Washington.
“We were definitely tested. Guys played their tails off,” Petrino said.
The game marked the debut of new Vandals quarterback Mike Beaudry. He threw a first-quarter interception that was returned 71 yards for the Eagles’ opening touchdown. But after connecting with Hayden Hatten in the final minute on Idaho’s winning 25-yard score, Beaudry finished with 296 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns.
Idaho had a run or pass option on the winning play, Petrino said. With the Eagles in man-to-man coverage, Idaho went with the throw. Hatten leaped high to take the ball from Eagles defender Keshaun King in the end zone.
Hatten and Beaudry had developed a rapport that Hatten said began earlier with a 15-yard completion. Hatten said he felt confident about bringing down the winning catch.
“Mike and I have played catch since roughly this summer,” Hatten said.
A team-leading 138 yards on six catches, including the touchdown, verified all the work paid off. Beaudry also spun a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cutrell Haywood in the third quarter for his first score as a Vandals quarterback.
The Eagles stacked their defense against Idaho’s running game.
“They definitely wanted to make us throw,” Petrino said.
Beaudry’s rough opening quarter (4 for 11 with the interception) as the new starter at a new school was to be expected, Petrino said, and it didn’t lead him to question his quarterback.
“I thought he kept his calm. Kept fighting. Kept battling,” Petrino said.
Having enough players to finish the game, though, appeared to be a more pressing concern as Idaho lost key members to injuries. Starting linebacker Tre Walker and edge rusher Charles Akanno ended the second quarter on the bench with leg injuries, although both returned for the final two quarters.
Center Chad Bagwell left in the first quarter with a leg injury and was replaced by a freshman, Greyson Harwood. New wide receiver Jermaine Jackson was injured on an early first-quarter kick return and spent the rest of the game on the sidelines on crutches.
Walker’s loss took Idaho’s most productive player, to that point, off the field. He led the Vandals with seven tackles in the first half, including a tackle for loss and sack. He was also Idaho’s leading rusher with 27 yards on five carries.
On the play he was hurt, Walker thwarted the Eagles’ attempt for a late second-quarter touchdown when he sacked elusive quarterback Eric Barriere.
Walker returned to his productive ways for the second half. He ended an EWU drive by forcing a fumble the Vandals recovered, and finished the game as Idaho’s leading tackler with 12.5, including a tackle for loss and the sack.
While the outcome certainly made it enjoyable, Walker said the way he and the Vandals – old, new and battered – rose to the challenge of Barriere and the Eagles made the night memorable.
“He’s a great quarterback. I told him that,” Walker said. “All game, I said ‘You’re a great quarterback. The way you play makes this game so fun.’ ”
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