Wilson leads BYU to comeback victory over Western Michigan

BOISE, Idaho – Zach Wilson put on a historic performance to lead BYU (7-6) to a 49-18 victory over Western Michigan (7-6, 5-3 MAC) in the 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Friday at Albertsons Stadium. Wilson became the fourth freshman to earn Most Valuable Player honors in the 21-year history of the Potato Bowl, throwing a perfect 18-for-18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns.

His 18 consecutive completion attempts are a BYU and Potato Bowl record, and was one shy of tying former Georgia quarterback Mike Bobo’s 19-straight completions to open the 1998 Outback Bowl for the bowl record in the FBS era.

BYU utilized a balanced attack all day, finishing the game with 490 yards of offense (358 passing, 132 rushing). Their 9.4 yards per play is tied with Utah State (2012) for the Potato Bowl record.

The Cougars also received stout defense on the night, starting with their senior linebacker, Sione Takitaki. Takitaki finished with a career-high 19 tackles on the night, one shy of tying the Potato Bowl record of 20, set by Idaho’s Ryan Skinner in 1998.

Trailing 10-7 heading into the locker room at halftime, BYU exploded for 28 points in the third quarter, and would score 35 unanswered points in the second half. BYU became the first team since 2011 (Ohio) to win the Potato Bowl after trailing at halftime. The Cougars’ 42 points in the second half make them one of four teams (Idaho and Colorado State, 2016; Georgia Tech, 2003) to score 40-or-more points in the second half in the history of the game.

Wilson opened the half with a 48-yard completion to Neil Pau’u along the left sideline on the first play after the break, and hit Dylan Collie from eight yards out to take the 14-10.

It was the second touchdown Wilson threw to Collie on the night, as they two connected on a 26-yard dart in the first quarter for the first score of the night. Collie finished the night with six receptions for 124 yards – the 12th time a player has recorded over 100 yards receiving in a Potato Bowl.

Burt Reilly scored on a 37-yard rush up the middle with 7:29 remaining in the third quarter to put the Cougars up 21-10. A three-and-out for Western Michigan gave BYU the ball back on their own 37-yard line. Wilson opened the drive by taking a seven-yard sack, but redeemed himself on the next play, hitting Aleva Hifo for a 70-yard touchdown strike – the longest play of the year for BYU – to extend the Cougar’s lead to 28-10.

A one-yard rushing touchdown from Dayan Ghanwoloku would put the cap on the impressive quarter for BYU. The 28 points in the third quarter tied with Clemson for points by a single team in the third quarter.

The scoring would not end for BYU, as Wilson threw his fourth and final touchdown on the night to Dax Milne with 11:38 remaining the fourth quarter to end.

Western Michigan would score for the first time in the second half on a one-yard keeper from quarterback Kaleb Eleby with 7:37 remaining. Eleby hit Jayden Reed on a flat route to convert the two-point conversion to make it 42-18 game.

Bray El-Bakri sealed the game with a one-yard touchdown run with 4:07 remaining in the game.

The Broncos won the time of possession battle in the game by over 10 minutes (35:21 to 24:39), but struggled to get any momentum on offense in the second half. Eleby finished the night 20-of-36 with 175 yards.

The win improved BYU to over .500 on the season, and they have now recorded winning seasons in two of head coach Kalani Sitake’s three seasons at the helm.

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