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Idaho Football
Sports >  Idaho football

Idaho quarterback Zach Borisch again thrust into starting role against highly-touted Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 14, 2021

By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

This is where Zach Borisch came in.

Last April, as Idaho’s fourth-string quarterback, he found himself called into action against 9th-ranked Eastern Washington, in Cheney, after the three quarterbacks ahead of him were injured or caught in COVID-19 protocol.

“On the whole bus ride up there, I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this with just a couple of days of practice,’” Borisch remembered. The whole thing seemed preposterous. In an unremarkable three years that involved redshirting as a freshman quarterback in 2018, moving to defense as a third-string safety and linebacker and back to offense as a fifth-string running back and recovering from a serious Achilles tendon injury, Borisch, a redshirt sophomore, was fashioning a college football career that might realistically have been expected to top out with him running under punts or holding for field goals as a senior – if he was lucky.

He had come to terms with that. “I was content with giving it all I’ve got in practice not looking back or having regrets,” Borisch said. He never second-guessed his decision to join the Vandals after a stellar prep career that saw him become the Washington 3A Player of the Year after leading Kennewick’s Kamiakin High School to its first state championship. “I’m loyal to the bones,” he said.

What happened on EWU’s fiery red turf, however, was akin to the 10th hitter on your slowpitch softball team belting out four home runs in Game 7 of the World Series. Borisch came out of practically nowhere and lit up the Eagles with 205 rushing yards on 33 attempts, the second-most rushing yards by a quarterback in Idaho’s history, and he scored two touchdowns in a narrow 38-31 Vandals’ loss.

Like a tourist speaking a foreign language with a phrase book, Borisch’s rudimentary grasp of Idaho’s offense limited him. Basically, after taking a snap, he hunted for a crease in the line. From there, his quick feet, uncanny balance, forward lean and ability to follow blocking that he developed as a running back in youth football allowed him rock the Eagles’ defense.

This was eye-opening for Idaho’s coaches, of course, and Borisch showed his performance at EWU was no fluke. He gained 78 yards on 15 carries the next week against Northern Arizona.

Vandals’ coach Paul Petrino said Idaho developed a package for Borisch featuring his skills that would get him into games regularly this fall in a complementary role.

But as the Vandals get on the bus to face EWU again in Cheney Saturday, Borisch finds himself the likely starter again. C.J. Jordan and Mike Beaudry were expected to battle through the Vandals’ first three games to be Idaho’s starting quarterback. Jordan, however, was injured early in Idaho’s 24-20 loss against UC Davis and hasn’t played since. Beaudry was hurt late in Idaho’s 42-35 victory against Portland State a week ago and has been limited in practice this week. As late as Wednesday, Borisch was running the show with freshman Gevani McCoy backing him up.

“It’s like Eastern 2.0,” Borisch said of his return as a probable starter.

This time, however, he comes fully armed. His portfolio has expanded to the point he is a full-fledged quarterback, not just a gadget guy who can run. The Portland State game served notice of his growth in the position. Against the Vikings, Borisch was Idaho’s leading rusher with 83 yards, highlighted by a 47-yard burst that set up his two-yard touchdown run. But he also threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Cash. In practice, Borisch easily spins 30-yard passes with a tight spiral and velocity into tight windows.

“I like the thrill of running the ball,” he says. “But I like the teamwork aspect of spreading the ball out. We have great receivers, and my job is to deliver the ball to them.”

It is early days for such comparisons, no doubt. But there are similarities between Borisch and a storied Vandal whose career also began inauspiciously. Idaho had a player who walked on in 1980 and became one of its greatest quarterbacks. After winning the starting job in spring football, Ken Hobart led the Vandals four years. As a freshman and sophomore, Hobart ran for nearly 900 yards each season in Jerry Davitch’s veer offense, and as a junior and senior he threw for more than 3,000 yards in Dennis Erickson’s spread attack.

As with Hobart, Borisch did not immediately attract the spotlight, but he is giving indications he is similarly versatile.

After a long journey through the Vandals’ offense and defense, he is back at quarterback. “I like that ball in my hands,” he says. “That’s what it is. I like touching the ball.”

The Vandals’ showdown with EWU might feature a battle of quarterbacks with Borisch dueling Eagles’ all-America Eric Barriere, who is undefeated at home in his career, 13-0, and who has amassed 10,000 yards of total offense, including 8,739 passing.

“We’ve got to keep their quarterback on the sidelines as much as possible. We’ve got to take care of the ball, make first downs and score points,” Petrino said.

“We definitely have to score in the 30s. Control the ball and limit possessions.”

Idaho and EWU know each other well and match up well. In a pair of games last spring, each team won at home by a single touchdown.

“Our guys are really excited to play,” Petrino says.

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