Dillon Gabriel has his own unique reason to be “super excited” for the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl, a matchup between UCF and BYU that became official Monday morning.

The Knights’ sophomore quarterback is no stranger to the Cougars. Gabriel grew up in Hawaii, and as such became familiarized with the BYU-Hawaii football rivalry. His father, Garrett, has a hand in the lore of that rivalry, and now the son will have his chance to make his own memories against the Cougars when UCF and BYU play in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22. 

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“It’s a great opportunity. I have a lot of respect for BYU. They’ve got a great team,” Dillon Gabriel told reporters Monday during a Zoom conference. “Obviously the Polynesian ties. It’s something I grew up around. A lot of respect for them. They’re a great team. It’s just going to be a great showdown for us as a matchup. Like I said, we’re super excited we’re playing them. It’ll be a fun time when we go down there.”

Dad outshines a Heisman winner

Garrett Gabriel is known, in part, for his days as Hawaii’s quarterback in a different era, when BYU and Hawaii were in the same league, the Western Athletic Conference. In back-to-back years, he upset ranked Cougar teams led by Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer — in 1989 and again in 1990, with both games played on the island of Honolulu. The second upset came on the same day Detmer won his Heisman.

“Back home, the Hawaii-BYU rivalry is huge,” Dillon Gabriel said in September, per the UCF Rivals website. “We’d always put that BYU game on, when they ended up beating Ty Detmer after he won the Heisman. Personally, I’ll never be a BYU fan because of it. I’m with my dad on that one.”

“Back home, the Hawaii-BYU rivalry is huge. We’d always put that BYU game on, when they ended up beating Ty Detmer after he won the Heisman. Personally, I’ll never be a BYU fan because of it. I’m with my dad on that one.” — Dillon Gabriel

Garrett Gabriel didn’t just lead Hawaii to victory over BYU. Both upsets were convincing wins, as the Warriors beat the Cougars 56-14 in 1989, then followed that with a 59-28 victory the next year.

Garrett Gabriel outshined the high-profile Detmer both times. In 1989, Garrett Gabriel completed 22 of 29 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns — that included TD passes of 83 and 45 yards during the second quarter, as Hawaii turned a 21-0 lead quickly into a 35-7 edge at halftime. Detmer, meanwhile, completed 24 of 35 passes for 427 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and was sacked several times, as he netted minus-77 rushing yards.

The next year, Garrett Gabriel again outdueled Detmer, hours after the BYU quarterback was tossed into a hotel pool by teammates as a way of celebrating his Heisman victory. That night, Garrett Gabriel completed 21 of 39 passes for 359 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, while adding 51 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. Detmer completed 22 of 45 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns while adding a rushing score, though he tossed four interceptions as well. Like the year before, Hawaii pounced quickly, taking a 28-7 lead through one quarter. After BYU climbed within 41-28 heading into the final quarter, Hawaii scored the game’s final 18 points.

Both times, the Cougars were ranked heading into the game against Hawaii — BYU was No. 18 in the Associated Press poll in 1989 prior to the loss to Hawaii, then was ranked No. 4 the next year when the Rainbow Warriors pulled the massive upset.

BYU-UCF features a pair of hot-handed QBs

This year, 10-1 BYU is currently No. 14 in the AP poll, 16th in the Coaches and No. 18 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. UCF, at 6-3, was ranked earlier in the year but is currently out of the polls.

Could the offensive fireworks of old be a precursor for this year’s bowl matchup between BYU and UCF? The matchup of the Knights’ Dillon Gabriel and the Cougars’ Zach Wilson features two of the best passers in the college games. 

Dillon Gabriel threw for 3,353 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions during the regular season, and his average of 372.5 passing yards per game is best in the nation.

Wilson completed 73% of his passes for 3,267 yards, 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the regular season, and he’s the country’s third-most efficient passer, with a 195.35 rating.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) warms up before the game against UTSA at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Not surprisingly, both teams score a lot of points. UCF is averaging 44.3 points per game, slightly better than BYU’s 43 ppg average. 

In just over a week, the Hawaii son will have his chance to follow in his father’s footsteps against an old rival.

That excitement Dillon Gabriel showed in finding out UCF’s opponent wasn’t immediately shared by his father — thanks to time zone differences between Orlando, Florida, where UCF is located, and their hometown of Mililani, Hawaii. BYU was officially announced as UCF’s opponent just before 10 a.m. EST on Monday, while in Hawaii, it wasn’t quite 5 a.m.

“The funny part is he hasn’t woken up yet,” Dillon Gabriel said. “I haven’t talked to him yet. In a couple hours I’ll call him and see what he says. It’s pretty funny because he had the chance to play them and also me. All the guys in the locker room are super stoked.”