[Vandal] Surprise Tactic Impresses

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Sun Apr 11 07:40:45 PDT 2021

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoSunday, April 11, 2021
Surprise Tactic Impresses
EWU squeaks out win against Idaho team unveiling new style, QB
By Colton Clark
CHENEY, Wash. — With its first three choices at quarterback unavailable, Idaho pulled out an unconventional gambit.
And for the greater part of their Big Sky rivalry matchup with No. 9 Eastern Washington, the Vandals’ surprise tactic worked.
Much of the pocket-passing game was dropped from Idaho’s offense, which effectively rode a fresh-installed, read-and-speed option attack with utility athlete Zach Borisch making his first career start under center.
But in the end, Idaho couldn’t sustain the deceptive magic.
Its final four series were stopped — including a potential game-tying last drive — as the Eagles squeaked out a hard-fought 38-31 victory Saturday at a windy Roos Field.
“That’s the antithesis of what they showed us in Game 1,” said EWU coach Aaron Best, whose Eagles lost 28-21 on Feb. 27 to the Vandals and pro-style quarterback Mike Beaudry.
“They did a good job game-planning with the quarterback they had. They were rolling with that all week, and we had no intel, so we made adjustments on the fly.”
EWU (5-1) got its wits, then punched its ticket to the Football Championship Subdivision postseason, snapped a two-game skid versus Idaho and extended its winning streak on “The Inferno” to 17 games.
Unlike many of the contests in that stretch, this one was no cakewalk.
It was a herculean debut from Borisch against a heavily favored foe from his home state. The 6-foot, 203-pound redshirt sophomore hails from Kennewick, Wash., where he won Class 3A player of the year honors and a 2016 state championship as a superstar Kamiakin High School quarterback.
Borisch had been listed as a defensive back and running back in the past. He’d only ever appeared on special teams.Yet he was tasked to return to his old position with Beaudry, CJ Jordan and Nikhil Nayar sidelined for unspecified reasons.
Idaho (2-3) kept its scheme under wraps, and Borisch delivered a memorable performance, likely solidifying himself as a piece in Idaho’s offense.
He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, accounting for 205 of the Vandals’ 278 ground yards and two of their three touchdowns on 33 of their staggering 59 attempts.
Bursting through tackles and slipping past defenders with blistering speed, balanced footwork and hesitation moves, Borisch resembled a top-flight military-academy quarterback, posting the best Idaho rushing day in 14 years.
“It helped that he’s been playing running back, and he’s been working hard at that,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “We felt like he’d do a good job running, and we came up with some good schemes to help him. He just competed his tail off.”
Bruiser Roshaun Johnson added 54 yards and a short touchdown as Idaho banked on methodical drives, catching Eastern off-guard and winning the time-of-possession column by about 13 minutes.
“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 at the end,” Petrino said. “I’m super proud of our guys.”
Facing a 38-31 deficit and a fourth-and-1 at EWU’s 37-yard line with 1:34 remaining, Idaho dialed up a rare pass. Eastern defensive end Mitchell Johnson read it precisely, snagging an interception at the line of scrimmage to seal it.
A Keshaun King pick on a 50-50 out-route ball seven minutes earlier set up the Eagles’ seven-play, 78-yard scoring drive. Dennis Merritt capped it with the go-ahead touchdown run, his third.
Merritt, who posted 67 of EWU’s 167 ground yards, tied the score at 31 on the previous possession — a versatile, 87-yard drive highlighted by poised play from All-American quarterback Eric Barriere.
EWU’s national-powerhouse offense had some trouble with pressure from a stout Idaho defensive front that singlehandedly stalled five of Eastern’s 11 drives.
Barriere’s mobility proved key down the stretch. He escaped crumbling pockets for big gainers in critical situations to help EWU outscore Idaho 14-0 in the fourth.
“We did a good job at times, then at times we didn’t contain him,” Petrino said of Barriere, who went 18-for-38 passing for two touchdowns and 309 yards, rushing for 40 more. “When he broke contain and got out on the edge, that’s when he’s dangerous.”
Said Barriere: “Honestly, I thought they did a good job bringing pressure and making me step up.”
Borisch went 5-for-11 for 74 yards and a 25-yard scoring pass off a rollout on fourth-and-1 to fullback Logan Kendall early in the third period. Borisch’s physical runs of 12, 10, 9, 9 and 7 yards got Idaho into Eastern territory.
Barriere connected with a striding, single-covered Talolo Limu-Jones (four receptions, 140 yards) down the far sideline for a 66-yard strike to answer Kendall’s touchdown.
Borisch responded two drives later with a 23-yard sidearm flip to Johnson, then cut back on an option for a 13-yard score to put Idaho on top 31-24 midway through the third.
“We had some different formations and different schemes, and different misdirections that helped us,” Petrino said. “But ultimately it was just guys blocking hard and guys running hard.”
Idaho’s two opening series in its unfamiliar, bunched-up formations turned uncertainty into sudden optimism.
On the first, Borisch and Johnson overpowered the Eagles as Idaho’s offense chewed away seven minutes. For his encore, Borisch called his own number with a 42-yard dart up the middle, and Johnson bulldozed in at the goal line.
EWU then logged 10 consecutive points after forcing a three-and-out. Eagle chunk gains through the air mostly made up a 15-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that ended with Merritt’s first score three minutes before the half. The teams were tied at 17 at intermission.
Up until the late stages, Eastern’s established, explosive offense was matched equally by the Vandals’ new style and surprise signal-caller.
“I think everybody fought their tails off, and we just came up a little short,” Petrino said. “But it wasn’t because we didn’t fight and play hard, that’s for sure.”
Stars Of The Game
ZACH BORISCH, a utility player/special teamer making his first career start at quarterback, posted 205 yards rushing and two scores on 33 attempts in Idaho’s new-look, option offense. He became the first Vandal to top 200 yards rushing since Deonte Jackson in 2007. EWU signal-caller ERIC BARRIERE, a senior All-American, threw for 309 yards on 18-for-38 passing, besting Idaho’s secondary on a handful of deep balls and keeping late drives afloat with his legs. CHARLES AKANNO (1½ TFLs) spearheaded a strong effort from the Vandals’ defensive front.
Key Plays
EWU corner Keshaun King darted in front of Borisch’s second-and-19 pass toward the sideline early in the fourth quarter for an interception, setting Eastern’s offense up near midfield with the game tied at 31. The Eagles proceeded to take their first lead since midway through the second quarter.
Up Next
The Vandals (2-3) wrap up their six-game Big Sky-only spring season at 1 p.m. Pacific on Saturday at Northern Arizona (2-2).
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