LAS VEGAS - Willie Tuitama threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night as Arizona won its first bowl game in 10 years, 31-21 over No. 17 BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Wildcats stifled BYU quarterback Max Hall throughout the game, forcing him to scramble often, lose two fumbles and throw an interception.
“We had to go with physical tackling — we had eight guys in the box at all times,” linebacker Xavier Kelley said. “We had our ups and downs, and this is tremendous. It’s amazing, amazing.”
Arizona fans trickled onto the field as the last minute ticked off the game clock, then sprinted to midfield in celebration of the school’s first bowl win since 1998, when it finished 12-1 and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
“This was five years in the making. It all came together in the last month of the season,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these seniors who brought Arizona back.”
The Wildcats (8-5) kept the ball in the air most of the game. Tuitama threw a 71-yard pass to Terrell Turner that set up the first score, a 37-yard touchdown to Delashaun Dean that gave the Wildcats the lead for good, and a 24-yard strike to Chris Gronkowski that sent Cougars fans toward the exits.
Arizona’s career passing leader added a 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give the Wildcats a 31-14 lead.
BYU (10-3) lost its bid to win three straight Las Vegas Bowls in four consecutive trips, ending a sloppy night with three missed field goals and 10 penalties for 76 yards.
“It was a good season, but not a great season,” Hall said. “We just hit a lull as a team.”
The penalties twice cost BYU prime chances to tie or take the lead. Three straight flags just before halftime turned a third and 1 at the Arizona 19-yard line into a third and 16, and Mitch Payne ended the drive by missing a 40-yard field goal wide left. Arizona led at halftime 10-7.
“Championship coaches don’t coach a team to do that. I could have done a better job,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We were pressing.”
The Cougars took their first lead of the game in the third quarter after Arizona lost a fumble at its own 29 on the first play of the half. BYU marched to the 1 with five running plays and Max Hall completed a play-action touchdown pass to Andrew George to put BYU up 14-10.
Nic Grigsby’s 1-yard run on Arizona’s first possession was set up by Turner’s 71-yard catch. Turner cleared BYU’s defense on the long pass play but was tackled from behind by Brandon Bradley just short of the end zone.
Grigsby fumbled deep in BYU territory on the next drive, turning the ball over at the 5 and ending a 62-yard drive without a score. But BYU fumbled on its next possession, resulting in a 31-yard field goal for the Wildcats.
BYU scored its first points midway in the second quarter, when Harvey Unga scampered into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Hall completed passes of 35 and 36 yards on the drive, including one to Austin Collie that gave the Cougars a first down on Arizona’s 3-yard line.
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