Brigham Young long has been known as Quarterback U, having produced a seemingly endless string of successful signal callers.
But the best quarterback in the Las Vegas Bowl played for Arizona, not BYU.
Wildcats senior Willie Tuitama completed 24 of 35 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, and he also ran for a score to lead Arizona to a 31-21 victory over the Cougars at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday.
“(Offensive coordinator Sonny) Dykes told us the bowl games you remember are the ones you win,” Tuitama said. “This being the only bowl game I’ve ever been to, I wanted to make sure we won, and I’ll never forget it.”
For his efforts, Tuitama was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“Willie’s had a great year, and he kept things together tonight,” Wildcats coach Mike Stoops said. “He really handled our team well, and to see him go out like that is awesome.”
Tuitama, a cousin of New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau and San Diego Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, quickly set the tone for Arizona, hooking up with Terrell Turner for a 71-yard pass on the Wildcats’ first offensive series.
Nik Grigsby ran in from 1 yard on the next play to give Arizona a 7-0 lead.
After BYU erased a 10-0 deficit to move ahead 14-10 early in the third quarter, Tuitama put the Wildcats ahead for good, lofting a 37-yard touchdown toss to Delashaun Dean, who was wide open in the end zone, to give Arizona a 17-14 edge with 7:07 left in the third.
Tuitama found Chris Gronkowski across the middle for a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Wildcats a 24-14 lead with 25 seconds left in the quarter.
Then Tuitama all but sealed Arizona’s first bowl victory in 10 years when he rumbled into the end zone from 6 yards to make the score 31-14 with 6:09 left.
The victory marked the achievement of a goal for the Wildcats’ program.
“A lot of people don’t really understand all the things we’ve been through,” Tuitama said. “A lot of people were saying we didn’t have a chance to win. We had a goal before the season started, and tonight we finally reached it.”
Tuitama suffered an array of injuries and concussions early in his career at Arizona, but he’ll leave as the Wildcats’ all-time leader in passing and total offense.
“Willie has been an incredible player for us,” Stoops said. “There’s no one that has endured more — maybe me — than him over the last four years. Me and him have been through a lot.
“He’ll go down in history at Arizona. His legacy will forever be etched there.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.