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Eastern Washington’s Jared Taylor fills in for injured quarterback Kekoa Visperas, rushes 22 times for 121 yards

Eagles quarterback Jared Taylor completed 10 of 23 passes for 92 yards during Saturday’s home game against Idaho.  (James Snook/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Jared Taylor graduated from Lakewood High School in Arlington, Washington, in 2020 with the goal of being a Division I starting quarterback.

On Saturday, he finally got that chance, when he started in place of Kekoa Visperas in No. 19 Eastern Washington’s 44-36 loss to No. 4 Idaho.

“Any kid waits for their opportunity to go play at this level,” Taylor, a redshirt junior, said. “I’ve wanted it for a long time. I went (to junior college) and this was always my dream to be here, and I got my chance today, so I just tried to make the most of it.”

It wasn’t until warmups that Idaho knew Visperas wasn’t going to play, but EWU coach Aaron Best said that midweek the team knew it was possible their No. 1 quarterback wouldn’t be available.

“It was something from last game that we’ll look at,” Best said of Visperas’ upper-body injury. “We knew about it but did not know the extent of it until later in the week.”

Taylor completed 10 of 23 passes for 92 yards and a 34-yard touchdown on a short toss-and-go to running back Justice Jackson. But he also ran a team-high 22 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the team’s first 100-yard rusher this season and the first quarterback to have at least 100 rushing yards since Eric Barriere did so three times in 2019.

“Running the ball was going well, so we kept running the ball,” Taylor said. “I didn’t throw as much as we usually do. At Eastern Washington, we throw the football, so it was a little different.”

The Eagles (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky) also used Michael Wortham at quarterback more than they had this season. Wortham – who is, like Taylor, a junior college transfer – ran five times for 54 yards for a touchdown, and also completed 3 of 5 attempts for 34 yards.

That included a 29-yard touchdown throw to senior Anthony Stell Jr. on a play in which Taylor took the snap and threw behind the line in the right flat to Wortham, who then found Stell wide open in the end zone.

“That was a play we had going in the week. We had high hopes for it,” Taylor said. “With a guy like Mike, a defense is going to key on him.”

Wortham’s rushing touchdown – “probably the most ridiculous play I’ve seen,” Taylor said – came on a third-and-7 play in which it appeared the Vandals (4-1, 2-0) had him wrapped up behind the line. But Wortham wiggled out of a pile and then cut through the right side of Idaho’s defense for a 35-yard TD, his third of the season.

The Eagles scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives to take a 28-21 lead. But in their next 10 plays from scrimmage, they went backward a total of 10 yards.

“Defensively, we made some simple adjustments that helped us play better defense,” Idaho coach Jason Eck said. “And we didn’t need a ton of stops; we just needed a few stops.”

Taylor’s 17-yard rushing score with 6:37 to go – plus a 2-point conversion on a nice catch by Nolan Ulm – got the Eagles back within eight points, but they never got the ball back.

Junior Efton Chism III led the Eagles with five catches for 31 yards. Jackson – who had a season-low 9 rushing yards – had the most receiving yards, all from that 34-yard touchdown catch. Redshirt sophomore Tuna Altahir had a season-high 48 rushing yards on 10 carries.

The Eagles are off for a week now. Best said he would have an update on Visperas’ status after the team’s bye. They play at Idaho State on Oct. 14.

“The thought is now, we’ll get back early next week and take a look at what it looks like,” Best said of Visperas. “But by no means was this a gamesmanship piece. … As we go forward, we’ll roll based on the information we’ll get next week.”