Zach Borisch EWU

Zach Wilkinson/Tribune

Idaho quarterback Zach Borisch, right, prepares to cut as Eastern Washington defensive back Anthany Smith breaks down to attempt a tackle during a Big Sky Conference game Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.

Concerning the curious case of Zach Borisch: It’s impossible to predict whether a gem is hidden on the sideline until his chance to shine finally presents itself.

Well, he had his shot. In a leading role, too. And what a buried-treasure find Borisch turned out to be.

The sneaky Idaho Vandals and trickster coach Paul Petrino fooled almost everyone Saturday — certainly their rivals at Eastern Washington — when they trotted out their fourth quarterback in five spring-season games, and had him steer an entirely new-look offense.

With QBs 1, 2 and 3 inexplicably unavailable, Petrino and company had spent the week installing a misdirection-heavy option approach boasting dozens of fresh running plays, many of them designed for Borisch.

And UI did it all secretly. Eastern had been scheming to see a pocket-passer.

The Vandals provided no hints to the contrary. The Eagles learned the news during pregame warm-ups. A wild turn from previously anticipated events ensued.

Idaho’s ground-and-pound ploy nearly succeeded. Actually, it succeeded a lot, even as EWU came to its senses, and began loading its defensive box with eight players.

The makeshift strategy captained by a fearless utility player was something to witness, though it wasn’t quite enough to stun the Eagles, who slipped away 38-31 on their glaring red turf.

Frankly, it was remarkable how well UI's hardly developed offense matched up with Eastern's, which ranks in the top three nationally in multiple categories.

Vandals and Eags alike sent their props to the newcomer at the center of the postgame discussions.

He hadn’t touched a football in a game since December 2016, and it was an exceedingly tough ask: Guide a two-score underdog against a playoff-hungry, top-10 foe that was riding a 16-game tear on its "Inferno."

Yet Borisch dazzled nonetheless, powering the Vandals to a commendable performance (their No. 2 offensive output of the season) before they ran out of steam in the fourth quarter.

A ball-carrying revelation, he charged through and shimmied past defenders with his long locks flowing gracefully behind, reading lanes craftily and exhibiting an exceptional burst of quickness while shouldering the kind of workload one might expect from an Army quarterback.

Thirty-three carries, 205 yards and two scores later, Borisch’s name had suddenly gone from the occasional participation note, to etched into Idaho’s record books.

Out of nowhere, he’s No. 10 in single-game rushing yards and carries, and the No. 13 Vandal to post 200-plus rushing yards in one outing.

The only UI quarterback to log more ground yards in a day? “Wee Willie” Smith (282). ... In 1932. Versus Gonzaga.

We’ve reached the no-holds-barred stage of this campaign, which has been delayed and plagued by the coronavirus.

Idaho was forced to tinker with is shallow roster and innovate its system.

His QB room empty with game day drawing near, Petrino must have figured, “Why not?”

Under the circumstances, he didn't have much to lose. Borisch, what with his prep quarterback experience, was the best bet UI had left.

Through a fake-out, the Vandals wound up with a gain. Never mind the game's outcome.

While UConn transfer Mike Beaudry and freshman CJ Jordan are probably still the top two choices at QB, it’d be a waste not to have Borisch contribute in some way going forward — perhaps out of the wildcat, or as a running back in the rotation, or a pass-catcher? However he can continue to get touches.

In any case, Petrino was impressed enough to give the sophomore the OK to speak with media members this week. Knowing how the eighth-year boss operates, I’d say that all but confirms Borisch as UI’s starter under center when the Vandals travel for their finale at Northern Arizona on Saturday.

Judging by the massive responsibility Borisch was tasked with — gain 3-4 yards a pop, stay on the field for five-or-so minutes at a time — I presume Petrino and the Vandals had an inkling of the talent they'd been sitting on, that his showing versus Eastern was less staggering from an inside-the-program perspective.

Otherwise, the average follower of the Big Sky Conference is surely wondering: Where’d this guy come from?

The superstar high school quarterback out of Kamiakin (Kennewick) arrived in Moscow way back in 2017.

He signed as an “athlete” in a recruiting class that featured three-star Los Angeles quarterback Dylan Lemle and a big arm from Lewiston in Colton Richardson, neither of whom remain on the Vandals’ roster.

In 2018, with junior Mason Petrino firmly a quarterback and Nikhil Nayar inked as a third-stringer, Borisch’s prospects at his prep position wilted.

For whatever reason, he fell into the shadows of the practice squad.

Borisch had been listed on UI’s roster as a defensive back during his redshirt year in 2018 and freshman season in ‘19. He made one appearance.

A Twitter post by a Vandal assistant last spring, which contained a screenshot of an Idaho quarterbacks meeting on Zoom, seemed to indicate that Borisch had returned to the signal-calling fold. But when the 2020-21 roster was unveiled, his position designation had flipped to running back (that makes much more sense now).

He saw some special-teams usage through Idaho’s first four games this year. He’d never touched the field in any other capacity.

Up until Saturday, he’d lived in depth-chart obscurity, yet gained somewhat of a cult following among Vandal fans online — in particular, the ardent members of an entertaining 247sports.com forum centered around UI’s football program, where posters often pondered where the former Washington Class 3A MVP/state champion had gone off to.

After all, there’s always an allure with the unused quarterback, especially in this instance, when the situation at the position has been unstable and the subject of controversy.

Considering the strong prep resume — and an accomplished background in judo that includes international tourneys and training sessions with UFC standout Miesha Tate — Borisch’s potential and balanced athleticism became talking points.

All he could do was keep his nose down, roll with the position changes and wait patiently in the wings for an opportunity that only the oddity of a season such as this could offer.

On a single week of first-string practice reps, Borisch looked like a natural on the ground. It was clear to see that his teammates were inspired, energized by the explosive, sharp runner, who played with no trace of timidness.

Through the air? Safer, rollout passes were the norm. He had a couple of decent lobs downfield that fell incomplete in the 20-mph winds at Cheney.

Borisch passed 5-for-11 for 74 yards, a play-action touchdown and a pair of interceptions on Idaho’s final two series — one on an odd, fourth-and-1 passing call, which sealed the outcome with 1:30 on the ticker.

You can’t fault him much for that line.

Maybe Petrino dials up another twist this weekend and leans more on Borisch’s passing capabilities, which accounted for 4,338 yards during his upperclassman seasons at Kamiakin.

Should Borisch start again, he’ll be playing in NAU’s element-free confines at Walkup Skydome, this time with an extra week of prep time, but without the advantage of being a secret.

His days as a hidden gem, buried on UI’s practice squad — only to appear in games for utility purposes — are clearly over.

Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 627-3209.