RUSTON - Louisiana Tech Athletic Department officials handed out San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl pens and stickers and football coach Sonny Dykes cracked possibly as many jokes as he had all season.
The Bulldogs (8-4, 6-1) had remained steadily focused on a WAC championship for weeks, even downplaying their impending bowl trip, the school’s first since 2008.
With the conference crown in the bag, Dykes and company were more willing to talk postseason, but remained more interested in the WAC title and finally receiving a pause to enjoy their accomplishments.
“It’s nice to finally be able to talk about some of the things we’re excited about in terms of playing in a bowl game and winning a championship,” Dykes said Monday. “I think it a lot of ways last week was hard for us. We were on the cusp of a lot of good things, but at the same time we felt the need to really focus on the things we had focused on, which were getting better and improving and going at it on a daily basis and grinding through things.
“So it’s been a little bit rewarding to wake up Sunday morning and know that you’re the outright WAC champions. I know it was a tremendous feeling of excitement, relief, exhilaration and a lot of things for me.”
Louisiana Tech accepted the Poinsettia Bowl’s invitation after Saturday’s 44-0 rout of New Mexico State (4-8, 2-4).
The Dec. 21 game will be the program’s sixth bowl appearance and first since 2008.
Tech has a 2-2 record in the 1977, 1978, 1990 and 2008 Independence Bowls and lost the 2001 Humanitarian Bowl for a 2-3 all-time NCAA postseason record.
But the players are more concerned for now with appreciating other accomplishments they’ve already clinched.
“It was phenomenal (to win the WAC trophy),” junior defensive back Chad Boyd said, later adding, “We’re still on a little high from the game, and I think we probably won’t really get settled for a bowl game mentality until maybe the end of the week because we don’t know who our opponent is ... We’re still in a stage of kudos, but we’re gonna soak this in a little bit.”
The WAC championship is Louisiana Tech’s first since 2001, its first season in the league, and its 23rd conference title of all-time.
Saturday’s home shutout was the Bulldogs’ first since Aug. 31, 1996, when it blanked Middle Tennessee State, 20-0.
The program’s seven-game winning streak is its longest since 1974, and its five straight road victories during that time is its best run of that kind since claiming 11 consecutive contests away from home from 1973 to 1975.
As a result, the Bulldogs received four votes in this week’s USA Today Coaches’ Poll. The school hasn’t been ranked in a major poll since Week 13 of the 1999 season.
I’m proud of what our players did and what our coaching staff did,” Dykes said. “I’m appreciative of the support that we’ve gotten from (university President Dan) Reneau to (Athletic Director) Bruce (Van De Velde) to everybody. They’ve just been outstanding and given us everything we’ve needed to have a chance to be successful.”