When Idaho realized it would be without a conference during the 2013 football season, cries for the Big Sky rang loud and clear on the Palouse.
Those cries won’t die out until Idaho announces its conference fate, especially after the Vandal football team blew a chance to prove itself in their 2012 home-opener, losing to Big Sky opponent Eastern Washington 20-3 Thursday in the Kibbie Dome.
Vandal senior Logan Bushnell got the start at quarterback after it had been rumored early in the week that announced starter Dominique Blackman would not be under center during the season-opener.
The talk during fall camp had been the quarterback battle between Blackman and junior Taylor Davis, who also started out on the sideline Thursday.
“He was our back-up quarterback, our two started the game,” Coach Robb Akey said.
However, Akey was adamant Blackman is the Vandals’ season starter and will play in next week’s game.
The reasons for Blackman’s absence were undisclosed by Akey.
“That’s between he and I and it will stay between he and I,” Akey said. “He wasn’t available to play and didn’t play. He is our starting quarterback and will start next week.”
Idaho’s run game started out sluggish, but under the command of its walk-on quarterback, the pass game got off the ground quickly when Bushnell found junior Najee Lovett for 66 yards down the right sideline.
Though the offense couldn’t finish out the drive, Idaho and senior kicker Trey Farquhar managed to score on a 27-yard field goal.
The inability to click offensively became a theme for the Vandals.
“Here and there we would start going, we would third down couldn’t convert at times,” Bushnell said. “We didn’t get it going soon enough and it wasn’t good enough offensive production.”
The Eagles matched with a field goal of their own on the ensuing drive, which was sparked by a 58-yard bomb from EWU quarterback Kyle Padron. Jimmy Pavel converted a 34-yard field goal to tie the game.
Eastern did find the end zone early in the second as Padron and FCS All-American receiver Nicholas Edwards connected for 33 yards before the SMU transfer hit freshman tight end Jake Withnell on a slant for Withnell’s first collegiate reception and an Eagles touchdown.
Doing anything and everything possible to stop the flow of Padron, the experienced Vandal linebackers picked up the slack and senior Homer Mauga intercepted the EWU gunslinger early in the second quarter.
Though Padron went for more than 180 first half yards, the junior was a lowly 9-22. Still, EWU led 10-3 after a defense-dominated first half.
Bushnell’s inexperience was evident throughout the third quarter and a diving Ronald Baines picked off the Vandal starter Idaho 20-yard line, ultimately leading to another EWU field goal, which put the visitors up 13-3.
The Idaho defense finally proved vulnerable, allowing the Eagles to drive 78 yards in six and a half minutes. Eagles running back Quincy Forte accounted for four carries on the drive and on the fifth, the sophomore from Fairfield, Calif., followed his blockers and bowled into the end zone from two yards out.
Meanwhile, the hosts rush game was inexistent and collectively, Idaho rushed for 73 yards on 28 carries with a long run of seven yards.
All was over midway through the fourth, but when Davis finally entered the game, he had completed six passes before Najee Lovett fumbled the ball in Eagle territory.
In his first ever start Bushnell was 10-24 with 123 yards and one interception. Padron was just 13-33 but threw for 260 yards.
EWU’s three FCS All-American wide receivers combined for 238 yards. Of that group, Brandon Kaufman led with 148 yards.
“The QB was playing real smart as far as I saw,” Mauga said. “His main point was just trying to get the ball out as soon as possible, I believe we did a good job.”
For the third time in four years, Idaho will meet Bowling Green of the Mid-American Conference. The two met in a 2009 Humanitarian Bowl win for Idaho and again last season, when Bowling Green edged the Vandals in Moscow.
The rubber match of the Vandals-Falcons series will take place at Perry Doyt Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. PT.
“We will get back here and get back to work.,” Akey said. “We lost to a good football team, they played better than we did. They did well, we didn’t do as well.”
Theo Lawson can be reached at email@example.com