BOCA RATON, Florida — It wasn’t the bowl standout quarterback Zach Wilson and the BYU Cougars were hoping for as they put together one of the best seasons in school history, but they didn’t let that show in any way, shape or form on Tuesday night.

In one of BYU’s most dominant postseason performances in memory, the No. 16-ranked Cougars plastered UCF 49-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium, erasing bitter memories of eight previous trips to the state of Florida — dating back to 1976 — that ended in defeat.

Receiver Dax Milne said before the matchup with the 6-3 Knights and one of the best offenses in the country that the team that most wanted to be there would perform the best.

And that was BYU, hands down.

“Things just went our way tonight,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, graciously. “I would take 23 points (from UCF) in a heartbeat, if you told me that before the game.”

He was being kind.

The Cougars played with passion and fire, after questions arose about their motivation. Pretty much snubbed from New Year’s Six bowl consideration with the release of the first College Football Rankings a month ago, the Cougars treated this relatively new bowl with six title sponsors in seven years of existence as if it were the national championship.

“Things just went our way tonight. ... I would take 23 points (from UCF) in a heartbeat, if you told me that before the game.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

“Obviously, BYU is a really good football team,” said UCF coach Josh Heupel. “Well-coached, physically mature. … First time since I have been here that we got beat like this.”

Take it from a guy who has written more the last dozen or so years about this program than anyone on the planet. This team is special, and not just in terms of talent on the field. The Cougars finished with 11 wins for the first time since 2011.

It is a crying shame they weren’t able to play for more, but that’s life as an independent. Credit Sitake and his staff — which was without offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and offensive line coach Eric Mateos for reasons Sitake would not specify — for a brilliant game plan, especially defensively, when even the most diehard BYU fans expected a shootout.

Made as clear as the South Florida skies Tuesday night: Give this coaching staff a full week, or more, to prepare and magic seemingly happens.

If this was his college exit, BYU’s Zach Wilson put on show to remember
Highlights, key plays and photos from No. 16 BYU’s 49-23 win over UCF in Boca Raton Bowl
BYU shorthanded on field and sidelines in Boca Raton Bowl vs. UCF

Wilson, named the BYU offensive MVP in the bowl, doesn’t do it with smoke and mirrors — his weapons are collectively as good as BYU has had in quite some time.

Receivers Dax Milne, Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u are not only big playmakers, but possession-type guys as well, as Milne especially proved on third down Tuesday.

Running backs Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa complement each other well, while tight end Isaac Rex has made everyone forget about one of the top TEs in the country from 2016-19, Matt Bushman.

“The love we have for each other and the excitement that we brought to this game,” is what Wilson said he will take away from what is almost certainly his last game as a Cougar. He said postgame that he still hasn’t decided yet and will make that determination between Christmas and New Year’s after talking with coaches and family, but it will be a major shocker if he returns.

“It probably has to be done before the new year,” he said.

Allgeier had 19 carries for 173 yards and a score and also caught a pass for 43 yards. Milne caught seven passes for 70 yards, including several to convert long third-down situations. Rex caught five passes for 96 yards and two TDs. Pau’u caught five passes for 86 yards and a score.

Katoa made a full-out, diving catch that will certainly make ESPN’s top 10 plays of the day.

The Cougars had 22 chunk plays, defined as 15 or more yards on a pass play and 10 or more on a running play, while holding explosive UCF to eight.

Any of the aforementioned could have picked up offensive MVP honors, but it went to Wilson, who completed 26 of 34 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. It was the Potato Bowl Wilson, instead of the Hawaii Bowl Wilson.

Wilson’s final audition, in all likelihood, for NFL scouts went swimmingly. His passer rating was 210.6, but only after it was 229.2 at one juncture in the fourth quarter.

And how about that depth on the offensive line? 

James Empey and Clark Barrington weren’t able to play, but Joe Tukuafu played center and Chandon Herring moved over to guard. Blake Freeland got the start at tackle. When Tukuafu went out with an injury, freshman Connor Pay stepped in.

When starting guard Tristen Hoge left in the third quarter, Kieffer Longson jumped in without missing a beat.

Sitake said he would start the rebuilding project in the trenches, and he has. Some of the holes for Allgeier and Katoa were comically large. Wilson was sacked just once, as UCF gambled with a blitz and won.

It feels premature to rank Wilson among the all-time BYU greats, based on his limited body of work. He basically played a little more than two seasons in Provo, getting a late start his freshman year because coaches were too loyal to senior Tanner Mangum, and missing a good chunk last year due to a fractured thumb. 

But it can be said, and written, that he just turned in one of the greatest single seasons for a quarterback in BYU history. He finished the year completing 73.5% of his passes, breaking Steve Young’s school record of 71.3%.

BYU’s defense, and coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, took some heat after giving up a lot of long, time-consuming drives to weak opponents in the middle of the season, then letting Coastal Carolina hog the ball in laughable proportions in the 22-17 loss on two days of preparation time.

It rose to the occasion on a perfect night in the Sunshine State, helping BYU win for the first time here after eight defeats dating back 44 years.

The Knights finished with 411 yards and 23 points, both season lows.

The team that entered the game second in the nation in yards per game (585.6) had just 227 in the first half (while the Cougars were racking up 431) and punted on its first two possessions and was stuffed on fourth down on its third.

Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for 217 yards, but also threw nine straight incompletions at one juncture and was mostly flustered until garbage time. 

“We weren’t efficient enough all night long,” Heupel said. “You look at (Gabriel’s) stat line and it was different than it was all season long. … I wasn’t anticipating this at the end of the night, for sure.”

The Cougars displayed their defensive depth as well, with starting cornerback Chris Wilcox opting out of the game to pursue pro football and cinco linebacker George Udo also not available. A couple times in the second half the Cougars platooned 11 guys at once, a move to keep players fresh and slow UCF’s uptempo attack.

Wilson and the Cougar offense served notice from the opening bell. An 11-yard pass to Pau’u, a 17-yard run by Allgeier, a 43-yard catch by a totally uncovered Allgeier and then a 15-yard run for a touchdown by Wilson set the tone. He had three carries for 23 yards and two TDs on the ground in the first half alone.

Micah Harper’s would-be interception was erased by replay, but no matter. The Cougars forced a punt on UCF’s first possession and then needed only four plays to make it 14-0.

Aaron Roderick, calling the plays in the absence of Grimes, dialed up the ol’ flea-flicker and Wilson found Rex for a 36-yard TD after Katoa and Pau’u also touched the ball.

Scoring summary:

BYU 49, UCF 23

First quarter

BYU, Zach Wilson 15-yard run (13:11), Jake Oldroyd kick

BYU, Isaac Rex 36-yard pass from Zach Wilson (11:10), Jake Oldroyd kick

BYU, Zach Wilson 4-yard run (0:25), Jake Oldroyd kick

Second quarter

UCF, Greg McCrae 5-yard run (10:11), Daniel Obarski kick

BYU, Isaac Rex 27-yard pass from Zach Wilson (7:11), Jake Oldroyd kick

BYU, Neil Pau’u 35-yard pass from Zach Wilson (3:31), Jake Oldroyd kick

UCF, Daniel Obarski 35-yard field goal (0:19)

Third quarter

BYU, Tyler Allgeier 39-yard run (13:11), Jake Oldroyd kick

BYU, Gunner Romney 6-yard run (9:31), Jake Oldroyd kick

UCF, Jacob Harris 21-yard pass from Dillon Gabriel (0:05), Daniel Obarski kick

Fourth quarter

UCF, Jaylon Robinson 9-yard pass from Dillon Gabriel (7:53), pass failed

BYU caught a break when UCF receiver Jaylon Robinson dropped a sure touchdown pass.

“We weren’t at our best tonight,” Heupel said. “Part of that was BYU, part of that was us not executing.”

The Cougars racked up 270 yards, and Wilson threw for 204 yards, in the opening quarter. He would go on to break the bowl record of 372 passing yards set by Memphis’ Riley Ferguson in 2016.

UCF’s best series in the first half, a 15-play, 80-yard drive, cut into BYU’s lead and got the Knights on the board with 10:11 left in the half.

Allgeier went over the 1,000-yard rushing plateau with a 24-yard jaunt to open BYU’s next possession, and a couple plays later Wilson found Rex again from 27 yards out. It was Rex’s 12th TD catch of the season. 

On its next possession, BYU went 87 yards for a score. Katoa made his phenomenal diving catch for 30 yards, and on the next play Wilson threw an absolute gem to Pau’u, a frozen rope that covered 35 yards for a touchdown.

Wilson was 17 for 21 for 330 yards and three TDs in the first half, and ran for two other scores. His passer rating at the break was an astronomical 260.1.

“He’s a great player,” Heupel said. “That’s why he’s (viewed) as he is by the NFL.”

Gabriel, who was supposed to engage in a memorable duel with Wilson, fizzled in his quest to match what his father, Garrett, did to the Cougars years ago. He was 9 of 22 for 95 yards and a passer rating of 73.8 in the first half.

“Coming in we felt very confident in our abilities,” said BYU safety Troy Warner. “We came out here with a sense of swagger.”

And ready to prove a point — regardless of what they happened to call the bowl this year.