POCATELLO — Idaho State’s 2019 home schedule ended with a whimper Saturday, as the Bengals lost 48-5 to Eastern Washington at Holt Arena.
It was the Bengals’ largest margin of defeat at home since a 73-23 setback against Montana in 1999.
“There’s nowhere to go but up,” Idaho State head coach Rob Phenicie said. “We have to finish this (season) with some good stuff. ... We have to complete passes, run the ball, have good practices and keep moving forward. Not take any more steps back, but I don’t know how many more we can take back.”
With two quarterbacks, Sagan Gronauer and Matt Struck, neither of whom were very effective, and one injured star running back — Ty Flanagan, who left the game on ISU’s first series and didn’t return — the Bengals had just about zero chance of getting much going on offense.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Washington offense, somewhat neutered in the first half, kept leaning on Idaho State’s defense, eventually producing a flood of trademark big plays to key the rout on an emotional afternoon — senior day — at Holt Arena.
“There have been a lot of good memories at Holt Arena with the fans, and especially my teammates and the coaches,” senior tight end Austin Campbell said post-game. “It’s just a weird feeling to see it come to an end already.”
After Idaho State honored a big class of 19 seniors before the game, the Bengals took the field with the freshman quarterback Gronauer making his first career start.
ISU (3-7, 2-5 Big Sky Conference) got the ball into EWU territory on its first three drives, but came away with no points.
The Eagles, meanwhile, kicked a 39-yard field goal on their second drive for a 3-0 lead.
Eastern’s next drive started at its own 1-yard line, and Idaho State linebacker Oshea Trujillo led a gang of Bengals into the backfield to drop running back Antoine Custer Jr. for a safety, but those were the only points ISU scored in the first half.
Eastern Washington (5-5, 4-2 Big Sky) added another field goal for a 6-2 lead and then finally broke ISU’s defense with a fake field goal on its next possession, as holder Gunner Talkington spun away and hit Blake Gobel for a 15-yard score. The 2-point conversion made it 14-2.
“We were holding on, and then we just sort of lost our grip,” Campbell said.
EWU kicker Seth Harrison added two more field goals for a 20-2 halftime lead.
Deposed starting quarterback Matt Struck replaced Gronauer late in the first half after six fruitless drives for Idaho State and saw out the rest of the game for the Bengals. The offense moved a little easier for the Bengals with Struck in, but it didn’t lead to many more points on the board.
Five second-half drives of over 40 yards resulted in just three points, on a 25-yard field goal by Kevin Ryan, along with a punt, an interception — one of three for Struck in the game — and two turnovers on downs.
The five points are the Bengals’ fewest in a home game since 2011, when they lost 33-0 to Montana.
“It was invaluable experience for (Gronauer),” Phenicie said. “(We went back to Struck) just to change it. We’re searching to find our rhythm again.”
Eastern Washington’s dynamic offense, meanwhile, finally started gashing Idaho State’s bend-but-don’t-break defense in the second half, getting long touchdowns instead of field goals.
Custer broke free for an 89-yard touchdown on the Eagles’ first drive of the second half, and quarterback Eric Barriere answered Ryan’s field goal with an 80-yard touchdown toss to Johnny Edwards.
Barriere added scoring throws of 21 and 59 yards, both to Andrew Boston, later in the half to cement the rout.
“We started picking up steam in the third quarter, but we let ‘er rip in the third quarter,” Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best said. “We got the long run by Antoine, and then we got the long passes that really opened it up and started sealing their fate a little bit.”
The Eagles rolled up 737 yards — one of the highest totals in school history and the third time they’ve gone over 700 yards this year — to Idaho State’s 416.
Barriere threw for 406 yards and ran for 61 more for EWU. Boston was his top receiver with 10 grabs for 147 yards and two scores, while Custer added 145 yards on the ground.
Struck threw for 260 yards off the bench for Idaho State, while wide receiver Tanner Conner had seven catches for 130 yards — all with Struck in the game. Freshman running back Malakai Rango finished with 12 carries for 56 yards in Flanagan’s absence.
Senior safety Adkin Aguirre led the Bengals’ defense with 11 tackles, all solo, and a pass breakup.
Idaho State travels to Provo, Utah, to take on FBS team BYU.