A former backup safety and linebacker, sixth-string running back and fourth-string quarterback, Idaho’s Swiss Army knife, Zach Borisch, has been thrust into the starting spot under center on the biggest stages this season.
After seeing his first serious college football playing time against No. 9 Eastern Washington in the spring, the fourth-year sophomore started at quarterback this season against then-No. 2 EWU, No. 7 Montana and No. 3 Montana State on Saturday.
Borisch is expected to be the starter again against Idaho State at noon Saturday (ESPN+) in Pocatello.
During most of those games, Borisch had to prepare for the starting role on short notice because of injuries to the other quarterbacks. He didn’t know he’d be the starter against MSU until two days before the game.
At this point, it’s almost expected to see Borisch and his signature long, flowy hair under center whenever the Vandals are playing a top opponent.
“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions,” Borisch said. “I got some tough teams … but that’s kind of what you want. That’s what you play football for: the big atmospheres, the tough opponents.”
The Bobcats beat the Vandals, 20-13 on a late touchdown, but Idaho gave the Big Sky’s top dogs as big a challenge as they’ve faced this season.
Borisch learned just an hour before UI’s final practice Thursday that he was going to be “the guy.” Starter Mike Beaudry missed the game with an undisclosed injury.
Borisch and his compatriots put forth a valiant effort. He and receiver Terez Traynor connected for UI’s lone touchdown of the game, a 30-yarder during a two-minute drill touchdown late in the second quarter. Borisch accumulated 227 yards of total offense, leading the Vandals in passing and rushing, and finishing without a turnover. But he also was sacked five times and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes.
Borisch would be the first to say he wishes he made a couple more plays against the Bobcats.
Borisch started the season as a package running quarterback. In practice, he would watch as Beaudry and freshman CJ Jordan would run the regular offense. Nobody could’ve predicted that those two would get injured this season.
“In my honest opinion, I think I need to do better,” Borisch said. “I think that’s what it came down to (against MSU). If I made some better throws and some better reads and know a little bit more of what I’m supposed to do.
“I’m not really the passing quarterback, I’m the running quarterback, so personally, I think I needed to do a better job, and I think that’s how you should really look at things — look in the mirror and then evaluate yourself from there.”
It took a while for the positional journeyman to find his niche with the Vandals.
A former Washington Class 3A player of the year at Kennewick’s Kamiakin High School, Borisch has spent time all around the practice field on offense and defense at Idaho.
He started as a scout team quarterback, but mostly served as a backup safety to Tyrese Dedmon.
Later, he was a backup linebacker to Christian Elliss before suffering an Achilles tendon injury in 2019.
When he returned, Borisch moved to running back to pad a depleted backfield corps but still he didn’t see the field on game days. Ironically, he’s still listed on Idaho’s roster as a running back.
It wasn’t until COVID-19 and injuries to thae quarterback room that brought him back to his old position.
Borisch started against No. 9 Eastern Washington and surprised everyone by putting up the second most-rushing yards (205) by a quarterback in program history in the 38-31 loss.
“It was my first time out there, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Borisch said. “Everyone was just excited that game, so it was just really easy to get going. We had a lot of success with the guys up front and around me, and the coaching staff did a really good job preparing us.
“I wouldn’t really say that game was on me.”
Borisch said the EWU game in the spring and Saturday’s MSU game are the moments he lives for as a football player.
Before playing against Eastern the first time, he said he was starting to lose his love for the sport.
“There was a stretch there I was forgetting how much love I had for football, just ’cause I wasn’t getting on the field,” Borisch said. “It was like you’re going through the motions, you’re trying to give your best effort and nothing’s working out, and finally you get on the field and it just woke me back up.”
He hopes to get that coveted first win as a starter this weekend against ISU. But he doesn’t care how the team does it.
“We just want to end the season with a win,” Borisch said. “I don’t care if we have to run the ball 100 times to win, throw the ball 100 times, as long as we win that’s all that matters.
“If (Roshaun Johnson) runs for (six touchdowns) again, that’s perfectly fine for me.”
Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @StephanSports.