DALLAS — Kenneth Dixon scored one of his two touchdowns on an 80-yard reception and Xavier Woods scored on a 69-yard interception return to help Louisiana Tech beat Illinois 35-18 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Friday.
The Bulldogs (9-5) also got touchdown runs of 16 yards from Jarred Craft and 28 yards from Blake Martin on a dark, overcast day at the Cotton Bowl stadium.
Illinois (6-7) struggled early with penalties and missed field goals, but got within three points on David Reisner’s 43-yard field goal early in the fourth quarters. But Dixon scored his second TD from one yard out with six minutes left to make it 28-18 and the Illini couldn’t answer.
Illinois appeared to have gotten a break when LaKeith Walls sacked Cody Sokol, causing him to fumble. But Jihad Ward returned it 19 yards and fumbled, letting Sokol recover. That drive was capped by Dixon’s TD.
Dixon became Louisiana Tech’s career leader in yards rushing, finishing with 63 for a total of 3,410 in three seasons.
He is also the only FBS player with both a run and a reception of at least 80 yards this season.
Tech’s Houston Bates was chosen the game’s most valuable player, recording 4½ sacks against his former school. The defensive end graduated from Illinois with a year’s eligibility remaining and wanted to finish his college career close to home.
Tech led 21-9 lead at halftime after Reilly O’Toole’s pass was returned for a touchdown by Woods midway through the second, but Illinois responded with a 3-yard scoring run by Donovonn Young. The 2-point conversion failed, though, but Reisner banked in a field goal to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 3.
O’Toole threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jon Davis early in the second quarter. He was 24 of 39 for a season-high 295 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Taylor Zalewski kicked a 27-yard FG in the first quarter for Illinois, which committed eight first-half penalties for 53 yards and missed two field goals attempts and and extra point.
“The way the guys played, Kenneth and Cody and throughout the whole season, it’s truly outstanding,” Bates said. “It’s something I’m going to live for the rest of my life. And if I die tomorrow, my life would be complete.”
Tech coach Skip Holtz then asked Bates to skip the humble answer and say what it really meant to him to win.
“Unbelievable,” Bates added with a huge smile.
“I know it’s been an emotional week for him,” Holtz said, “and I know it’s been an emotional week to see him go out and do the things that he did.”
Rutgers 40, North Carolina 21: In Detroit, Josh Hicks ran for 202 yards and a touchdown and Rutgers beat North Carolina 40-21 on Friday night in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field.
Gary Nova threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and Robert Martin ran for 100 yards and two scores to help the Scarlet Knights (8-5) cap their first Big Ten season.
Hicks was selected the player of the game.
Rutgers led 40-7 before the Tar Heels (6-7) scored twice in the final 7 minutes.
North Carolina also had two second-half touchdown passes taken away because of interference penalties.
N.C. State 34, Central Florida 27: In St. Petersburg, Florida, Jacoby Brissett threw for 262 yards and one touchdown and Matt Dayes scored on runs of 24 and 15 yards to help North Carolina State beat Central Florida in the Bitcoin Bowl.
Brissett threw a 37-yard TD pass to Johnathan Alston to put the Wolfpack (8-5) ahead for good in the second quarter. Running back Shadrach Thornton got N.C. State going early with an 18-yard scoring pass to Jaylen Samuels.
UCF (9-4) began the night ranked in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per game, as well as pass efficiency, rushing and scoring defense. But the co-champions of the American Athletic Conference had no answers for Brissett and a supporting cast that amassed 488 yards of total offense — over 200 more than opponents averaged against the Knights during the regular season.