Eric Barriere slipped out of one sack and spun out of another.
Eastern Washington’s shifty sophomore quarterback proceeded to roll out and scan the field Saturday at Roos Field, and fired a 55-yard pass down the sideline to tight end Henderson Belk.
His confidence was palpable in the fifth-ranked Eagles’ 38-14 rout of Idaho, the Vandals’ first trip to Cheney since before Barriere and his teammates were born (1994).
And EWU’s defense continued to show why it’s one of the best units in the country.
If this were a Big Sky Conference rivalry in the past, the Eagles, who racked up 546 yards, slowed down a potential reboot with the blowout in front of a sold-out homecoming crowd.
Barriere, starting in place of All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud for the third consecutive game, shook off his poor performance at Weber State in his last outing, passing for a career-high 326 yards and three touchdowns.
“You can’t win every Saturday,” said Barriere, who also rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown. “(The 14-6 loss at Weber State) was a learning experience, and I tried to fix my mistakes and our mistakes and tried to improve on them today.”
EWU coach Aaron Best confirmed after the game that Gubrud will undergo season-ending surgery.
Barriere’s 48-yard touchdown scamper early in the first quarter, the product of a D’Londo Tucker fumble recovery to set up the drive, helped the Eagles set a tone.
Barriere had touchdown connections to Terrance Grady, Dre Dorton and Belk. Running back Tamarick Pierce also reached the end zone for EWU (6-2, 4-1 Big Sky), which led 31-0 at halftime.
Defensive end Keenan Williams, a Cheney High product, anchored the Eagles’ defensive, tallying a team-high six tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss.
Eastern’s defense has surrendered 17 points or less against against its six Big Sky opponents.
Williams said the Eagles’ swift 14-0 lead took some pressure off his defense, which limited the Vandals to 363 total yards.
“It was a bit of a relief, because of the struggles we had (at Weber State),” Williams said. “It was great to see the (offense) get back on track, and (the defense) just continued to grind throughout the game.
The Vandals dropped to 3-5 and 2-3 in Big Sky Conference play and suffered its worst loss to EWU in program history.
It didn’t help that the Vandals, who are 0-3 against EWU in the 2000s, were without five starters because of injury, including three offensive lineman and former all-Sun Belt Conference linebacker Ed Wall.
EWU appeared healthier after its bye week, especially on the offensive line with the return of left tackle Beau Byus and right tackle Chris Schlichting, who missed most the Weber State game with an injury.
They gave their young quarterback ample time to operate against Idaho’s zone defense.
“He had a lot of time to find receivers,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said.
On Idaho’s first drive, it was Petrino’s son, Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino, finding targets, marching to the Eagles’ 17-yard line.
But linebacker Ketner Kupp forced a fumble by receiver Jeff Cotton and Tucker recovered, setting up the Eagles’ first score.
On EWU’s next defensive possession, Kupp stopped running back Isaiah Saunders on fourth-and-2 on Idaho’s 47-yard line. Three plays later, Barriere found Belk on 22-yard slant to make it a 14-0 ballgame.
Petrino completed 20 of 28 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, but the Vandals were in catch-up mode from the start and big plays came at premium.
“We tried to have urgency all day, but we didn’t have execution,” coach Petrino said.
Cotton hauled in eight passes for 110 yards and a touchdown to lead Idaho.
EWU head coach Aaron Best praised his defense.
“Our defense has been above outstanding – it’s awesome,” he said. “We’re eight weeks in and we’re saying the same thing – this is a stout defense. Points-wise, yardage-wise and yards-per-carry-wise, this is a dialed-in defense. They are playing gap-style football. It doesn’t mean they are always going to allow only 2 yards per rush, but we’ve done a good job trying to make teams one-dimensional. If you can stop the run and score points on offense, that’s a great recipe for success.”
Idaho was led by linebacker Ty Graham, another Cheney High product, who had 12 tackles.
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