Senior running back Kenneth Dixon made his bid for NCAA history in the New Orleans Bowl and helped Louisiana Tech establish its own special history as well.
Dixon scored four times, at least temporarily passing Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds as college football’s all-time record-holder for career touchdowns with 87, and the Bulldogs won back-to-back bowl games for the first time, beating Arkansas State 47-28 on Saturday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Dixon liked that last part the best. Reynolds, who will play his final game against Pittsburgh on Dec. 28 in the Military Bowl, can snatch the record again if he gets three touchdowns.
No one can take away Louisiana Tech’s victory, which came a year after the Bulldogs dispatched Illinois 35-18 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“This is the first time it ever happened at Louisiana Tech,” Dixon said. “I’m ready to celebrate.”
Sun Belt champion Arkansas State (9-4) had been a dominant second-half team all year, but Louisiana Tech (9-4) flipped the script behind Dixon and grad student quarterback Jeff Driskel, a Florida transfer. Dixon’s 59-yard catch and run down the sideline broke a tie at 20 midway through the third quarter, and he had two more touchdowns as the Bulldogs scored on their final five possessions.
Louisiana Tech shattered the New Orleans Bowl record with 687 yards, the fifth most in NCAA postseason history, breaking off five gains of 45 or more. Dixon’s four scores were a New Orleans Bowl record, and he surpassed 100 yards rushing (102) and receiving (113) en route to MVP honors. Driskel threw for 458 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Trent Taylor had a New Orleans Bowl-record 10 catches for 149 yards.
“Our guys were just winning one-on-one battles down the field,” Driskel said. “I just had to give them a chance to make a play.”
Dixon showed his nose for the end zone on Louisiana Tech’s opening possession. Driskel lofted a pass from the Arkansas State into double coverage in the corner, and Dixon outjumped both defenders before landing with one foot in bounds for the score.
“People are going to be talking for a long time about Kenneth Dixon at Louisiana Tech,” coach Skip Holtz said. “Even thought this is the last time he is going to put that helmet on, we are going to get to see him for a long time playing this game (in the NFL).”
Dixon thought he had another touchdown later in the first quarter, but his 31-yard run to the end zone was negated by a chop block penalty, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for a 50-yard field goal.
It was not the first or the last time a flag flew. Before Saturday night, no team in New Orleans Bowl history had been penalized for 100 yards. Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State each passed that mark by the end of the third quarter, finishing with a combined 263 yards in penalties (Louisiana Tech 154, Arkansas State 109).
“I think the officials got paid by the yard tonight,” Holtz said. “There were so many handkerchiefs on the ground.”
The two teams combined for 69 penalty yards on Arkansas State’s first drive alone, with multiple Bulldogs’ mistakes helping the Red Wolves get a first-and-goal at the 4 before three straight flags, including offensive interference that negated a touchdown, pushed them backward. It would have been four penalties in a row, but Louisiana Tech declined a holding call on second-and-goal from the 37.
The last penalty that mattered came in the third quarter, when a defensive holding call kept Arkansas State’s defense from getting off the field on third down in a tie game. Dixon scored on his long reception three plays later, catching a floater from a scrambling Driskel, and the Red Wolves defense rarely got off the field the rest of the way.
“We played hard for 60 minutes,” Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said. “We just didn’t play well.”
The Red Wolves entered with an NCAA-best 26 interceptions but forced zero turnovers while committing three. It was a dramatic turnaround for Louisiana Tech, which had whopping seven giveaways in a regular-season finale against Southern Miss that cost it a spot in the Conference USA championship game.
“We had high hopes and lofty standards coming into the season, and we weren’t able to get everything done that we wanted,” Holtz said. “The seven turnovers in our last game was one of the driving forces behind the team being motivated to play in this game.”
Driskel took advantage of Arkansas State’s aggressive coverage with a 53-yard strike to Carlos Henderson to set up a touchdown on the opening possession. Henderson dislocated four toes and was carted off the field after the play, but Driskel hooked up with Taylor on a deep post for 45 yards to set up another touchdown as Louisiana Tech went ahead 17-3.
Arkansas State, which lost running back Michael Gordon to an ankle injury on its opening series, tied it with two touchdowns before the half, but the respite was brief.
The Red Wolves’ lone highlight after the break was a New Orleans Bowl-record 98-yard kickoff return by Blaise Taylor in the fourth quarter.
The night belonged to Dixon and Louisiana Tech. The only question left is whether he will hold on to his touchdown mark when Reynolds plays in the Military Bowl.
“I probably won’t watch the game,” Dixon said. “If he gets the record, it will be great. If I keep it, it’s even greater.”