MOSCOW — Earlier in the week, Idaho’s Mike Beaudry threw his hat in the ring.

“I think, personally, I’m the best quarterback in the conference,” he said with an unpretentious tone when asked about All-American Eastern Washington signal-caller Eric Barriere, the Big Sky’s preseason offensive MVP.

UI’s graduate transfer out of UConn has time yet to prove that self-confident notion, and his Vandal debut was an encouraging start.

He wasn’t deflated by a jittery first quarter. With a staunch defense backing him, Beaudry steered Idaho out of a 14-0 second-quarter hole, then tossed what turned out to be a game-winning, 25-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hatten with 54 seconds on the clock.

The Vandals upset regional foe EWU and its superstar quarterback for the second consecutive season, outdueling the 12th-ranked Eagles 28-21 on Saturday at the Kibbie Dome to open the Big Sky’s delayed, condensed spring season.

“He kept his calm and kept fighting, kept battling, and that was the difference,” coach Paul Petrino said of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Beaudry. “They had a three-year-starting quarterback who led them to the national championship (in 2018) and we had a guy starting his first game.

“It just took a while, and Mike continued to improve and played really well when it mattered.”

Beaudry hit Hatten, a sophomore and former tight end, with a 30-yarder to open UI’s final possession, which began at the 4:05 mark of the fourth quarter. He followed that with a nervy 25-yard ball to Connor Whitney in a tight window down the seams.

The Vandals were content to let the clock run down and keep it on the ground. But when Petrino and Co. saw EWU fielding a man defense, they dialed up a third-down jump-ball to Hatten, who won positioning against Keshaun King at the goal line and reeled in a tough grab.

“I was very confident I was gonna bring it down,” said Hatten, who posted 138 yards on six catches. “Mike and I have a good connection. … As the game progressed, our timing got better.”

Beaudry was 22-for-45 passing for 296 yards and two scores. He was 4-of-11 with a pick in an off-target opening period, but got in a groove after the break, clicking on quick outs and taking downfield shots to keep EWU honest as the visitors keyed in on Idaho’s ground game (70 yards total).

“He had a little bit of nerves in the first quarter,” star linebacker Christian Elliss said. “Everybody does. I had ’em too. That’s why I missed a couple of tackles.

“We hadn’t played in a while. But Mike, being a leader, he can command the offense. I loved Mike out there.”

UI’s defense followed the go-ahead score by clamping down on the explosive Eagle offense — as had been the case for much of the day. Linebacker Charles Akanno sacked Barriere to all but cap it.

The Eagles, who boasted the No. 1 total offense and No. 2 scoring offense in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2019, mustered 14 points on that end, and were held 98 yards under their average.

EWU, playing with coach Aaron Best sidelined by COVID-19, struck first midway through the first with a 71-yard pick-6 by Anthany Smith, who jumped a Beaudry deep ball and outraced everyone down the sideline.

Four of UI’s first five possessions were 3-and-outs, but its defense picked up the slack. Eagle series often stalled after one or two big plays.

They finally found a gap in Idaho territory with a 27-yard touchdown on a busted-coverage screen by Dennis Merritt early in the second.

A 34-yard catch-and-run from Cutrell Haywood set up Nick Romano’s short scoring run midway through that quarter, which trimmed EWU’s lead to 14-7.

Elliss and fellow standout Tre Walker combined to snuff out another EWU possession, and Beaudry marched UI downfield, continuing to show promise. Roshaun Johnson rumbled in from 5 yards out to tie it at 14 with 6:15 to go until the half.

Eastern opened the second half with a highlight-laden series that concluded with a 22-yard touchdown catch by Anthony Stell Jr. Haywood answered, juking his defender on a short hitch and bolting in from 14 yards out at 5:42 in the third.

“(Hatten) and Cutrell, they’re tough matchups,” Petrino said.

The Eagles’ final red-zone appearance ended with a missed chip-shot field goal early in the fourth. Both teams traded empty possessions before Beaudry’s head-turning series.

The Vandals’ defense contained Barriere relatively well, but the senior still was 32-for-57 passing for 339 yards and two scores. His receivers were to blame for several incompletions.

“(Barriere) is just a big-time player,” Petrino said. “Our defense did a great job early in the game when we weren’t doing a whole lot offensively.”

Elliss had 11 tackles, and two for loss, and Walker — who got some reps at running back — tallied 12½ and a forced fumble late in the third, which the Vandals recovered. Senior safety Tyrese Dedmon added a red-zone interception in the first quarter.

“It’s the most experienced defense we’ve had in a long time, so yeah, we were able to get some pressure,” Elliss said.

INJURY REPORT — First-year UI receiver Jermaine Jackson left the game in the first half with a leg injury sustained on a kick return, and did not return. Center Chad Bagwell was shaken up early too, and true freshman Greyson Harwood replaced him well. EWU was playing without all-league receiver Andrew Boston.

E. Washington 7 7 7 0 — 21Idaho 0 14 7 7 — 28

First Quarter

EWU: Smith 71 interception return (Harrison kick), 06:45

Second Quarter

EWU: Merritt 27 pass from Barriere (Harrison kick), 13:30

IDHO: Romano 3 run (Coffey kick), 09:40

IDHO: Johnson 5 run (Coffey kick), 06:15

Third Quarter

EWU: Stell Jr. 16 pass from Barriere (Harrison kick), 12:11

IDHO: Haywood 14 pass from Beaudry (Coffey kick), 05:42

Fourth Quarter

IDHO: Hatten 25 pass from Beaudry (Coffey kick), 00:54

EWU IDHO

First downs 23 21

Rushes-yards 32-87 29-70

Passing 339 296

Comp-Att-Int 32-57-1 22-45-1

Return Yards 21 62

Punts-Avg. 7-38.7 7-50.6

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-0

Penalty-Yards 7-74 5-55

Time of Possession 30:31 29:29

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: E. Washington, Ta. Pierce 13-63, De. Merritt 10-41, Si. Perreiah 1-(minus 1), Er. Barriere 8-(minus 16). Idaho, Ro. Johnson 10-27, Tr. Walker 5-27, Ni. Romano 11-23, Mi. Beaudry 3-(minus 7).

PASSING: E. Washington, Er. Barriere 32-57-1-339. Idaho, Mi. Beaudry 22-45-1-296.

RECEIVING: E. Washington, Ta. Limu-Jones 9-93, An. Stell Jr. 4-70, Ef. Chism 6-50, Fr. Roberson 7-48, De. Merritt 3-46, Mi. Taras 1-22, No. Ulm 1-9, Si. Perreiah 1-1. Idaho, Ha. Hatten 6-138, Cu. Haywood 4-70, Co. Whitney 3-44, Ni. Romano 6-31, Lo. Kendall 2-12, Ro. Johnson 1-1.

Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

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