MOSCOW, ID - The Eastern Washington University offense wasn't at its finest Thursday against Idaho, but the defense certainly was.
Transfer quarterback Kyle Padron completed 13-of-33 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown in his EWU debut as the Eagles edged past its former Big Sky Conference rival for a 20-3 win in the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho.
"He did a great job, took some hits and stayed so calm," said head coach Beau Baldwin of Padron, who played in 24 games – 21 as a starter – at SMU. "Whenever your quarterback can lead you to a win on the road against a FBS school, that's something good. It's the first time we've won one of these in a long time."
Eastern's defense allowed just 237 yards, with 66 of that coming on a defensive breakdown by EWU in the first quarter. The win over the NCAA Football Bowl Division foe broke a 10-game losing streak against FBS opponents for the Eagles.
Eastern, ranked 12th in the preseason Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 Poll, held Idaho to a long rush of 7 yards, forced Idaho to punt nine times and held the Vandals to a 2-of-15 performance on third down.
"They were lights out," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "Our biggest goal is to continue to push our team to carry that through the rest of the season. We need to follow that up with another performance like this. With the veterans we have on defense and their ability to fly around and disrupt the other team's offense, that will make it tough on opponents. We have a tough, veteran group, and they did a really nice job tonight."
Linebacker Ronnie Hamlin led the way for the defense with eight tackles and a pass broken up for the Eagles. Sixth-year linebacker Zach Johnson added six tackles as he moved into ninth on Eastern's all-time tackles list with a current total of 266.
Cornerback Ronald Baines, making the first start of his Eastern career, had an interception that led to a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter by Jimmy Pavel, giving EWU a 13-3 advantage. Pavel added a 34-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Padron, Eastern's second-straight transfer from Southern Methodist University, had his first touchdown pass as an Eagle with 3-yard touchdown strike to redshirt freshman Jake Withnell in the second quarter. Eastern finished with 412 yards of total offense, including 260 passing and 152 rushing, with starting running back Demitrius Bronson missing the game with a strained hamstring.
"In the first game, you see different pressures and some things you didn't see on video," said Baldwin of Padron directing Eastern's offense for the first time. "He just handled all those situations well the whole game. You could see a lot of his experience come out today."
Eastern's previous SMU transfer, Bo Levi Mitchell, has similar numbers in his debut at Eastern. He completed 19-of-35 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-24 loss to Nevada two seasons ago. Mitchell went on to lead the Eagles to the 2010 NCAA Division I Championship and won the 2011 Walter Payton Award given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, who received an injury redshirt in the 2011 season after playing in the first four games of the year, had his ninth 100-yard receiving performance of his Eastern career with five catches for 148 yards. An All-American in 2010, he now has 133 catches for 2,029 yards and 17 touchdowns in his career.
"It's great to have him back – you can just see it in his legs," said Baldwin. "He was never really healthy that much last year, even in our opener. You can see the difference in where he's at now. They are a good, mature and talented group of receivers, but it's obviously neat to see No. 1 back in there with the rest of those guys."
Fellow All-American Nicholas Edwards added 62 yards on a pair of receptions to move into ninth on Eastern's all-time receiving yards list with a current total of 2,260 (on 180 catches with 29 touchdowns).
The first half was punctuated by mistakes by the Eagles, despite a 223-135 advantage in total offense. At one point, Eastern had 66 yards to a minus-1 by Idaho.
In the first half, the Eagles were whistled for seven penalties for 40 yards; had a holding penalty on an Idaho punt that led the lone points of the day for the Vandals; gave up the 66-yard pass to a wide-open Idaho receiver on a third-and-long play; and Idaho intercepted a pass that went through the hands of an Eastern receiver.
After a trade of field goals, Eastern took a 10-3 lead when Padron led Eastern on a five-play, 67-yard drive. The big play was a 33-yard pass to Edwards.
After Pavel's third-quarter field goal, Eastern scored on an 11-play, 65-yard drive that was capped by a 2-yard TD run by Quincy Forte. Forte finished with a team-leading 66 yards on 17 carries, and Jordan Talley added 63 yards on 18 carries. Both players are sophomores who played as true freshmen in 2011.
Only once last year did Eastern have more than 139 yards rushing in a single game. Eastern's 40 rushing attempts are the most since the 2010 season.
"We've worked on it," said Baldwin. "We ran it more than we probably did the last six or seven games last season. We talked about being a championship caliber team, and you can't do it without some form of balance. It doesn't mean you are going to be exactly 50-50, but we needed more than we had last year. We led the nation in passing, yet we were 6-5. That can show you something. When you can be in a situation like we were in tonight and run the ball, that's huge."
Eastern returns to the Palouse on Saturday, Sept. 8 when the Eagles play at Washington State in the first varsity meeting between the two schools since 1908.