Senior Kenneth Dixon scored three touchdowns for the 11th time in his career while leading Louisiana Tech to a 27-17 win over FIU before 20,010 fans in Conference USA action at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Dixon scored on runs of 63 and 14 yards and hauled in an acrobatic 23-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jeff Driskel, moving him up to second in the NCAA for most games with three or more touchdowns. He also climbed in the NCAA record books to sixth in career overall touchdowns (68) and 10th in career rushing touchdowns (58). Dixon ended up rushing for 169 yards on a season-high 25 carries, his 20th career 100-yard rushing performance.
“Kenneth Dixon is special,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “I think we are going to look back at his career and realize how lucky we were to have him on our team. I’ve coached a lot of great players in my time, but I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a guy who loves to compete like Kenneth does.”
Coming off back-to-back heartbreaking road losses at WKU and Kansas State the past two weekends, Louisiana Tech (2-2, 1-1 C-USA) knew it needed to overcome the disappointment of those results. It didn’t take Dixon long to get his teammates – and the red-clad Bulldog faithful – energized as he took a handoff on the fifth offensive play of the game, cut to the left side and dash 63 yards for a score, giving Tech the 7-0 lead.
Dixon’s run was aided by a great block by sophomore wide receiver Carlos Henderson on a FIU defensive back, while Dixon left the Panthers safety in his tracks on a cut-back that ultimately separated him from the pack.
FIU (2-2, 0-1 C-USA) scored its first points of the game early in the second quarter on a 44-yard field goal by Austin Taylor, cutting the Tech advantage to 7-3.
With Tech struggling to add to its lead, it took another highlight play by Dixon to break the offensive drought. On a third down and 1 play from the FIU 23, Dixon ran a wheel route and Driskell led him down the left sideline with the pass. Dixon leaped high into the air to catch the pass and then had the instinct to get one foot down in the end zone before his momentum led him out of bounds.
It was Dixon’s eighth career touchdown reception and Jonathan Barnes extra point gave Tech a 14-3 advantage. The scoring drive of 6 plays covering 81 yards was highlighted by a 21-yard connection to Trent Taylor and a 32-yard run by Driskell, who finished 18-of-32 passes for 226 yards and one score.
Tech’s defense continued to keep FIU at bay. A Barnes 39-yard field goal with 2:19 remaining in the second quarter ended the first half scoring as the Bulldogs took a 17-3 lead into the halftime locker room.
“We came into halftime and I looked around and we looked mentally spent,” Holtz said. “Not physically, but mentally. We talked all week about making sure we put the two tough losses behind us and coming out and playing hard. I thought we did that. I think mentally it took something out of us.”
FIU wouldn’t go away quietly. The Panthers opened the second half with an impressive drive, orchestrating a 13-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 10-yard scoring pass from Alex McGough to tight end Ya’Keem Griner with 8:44 to play in the third quarter. Taylor’s extra point made the score 17-10.
With the game still in doubt, Dixon came to Tech’s rescue once again. Early in the fourth quarter with Tech holding the seven-point lead, Dixon took a handoff at the 14-yard line and bounced outside. A host of FIU players appeared to have the Strong, Arkansas native stopped at the five-yard line, but Dixon shook off the would-be tacklers and powered into the end zone for is third touchdown of the day.
After another defensive stop by Tech on FIU’s ensuing possession, Tech drove 65 yards on nine plays as Barnes added a 28-yard field goal. The Bulldogs led 27-10 with just 6:36 to play.
FIU added a touchdown with 3:50 to play on a 7-yard pass from McGough to Thomas Owens. Tech then recovered the Panthers on-side kick and ran out the clock with nine straight rushing plays.
“I am really proud of the way we played defensively,” Holtz said. “We kept the football in front of us. FIU does a lot of nice things. I thought our game plan was solid. We had guys making plays. Beau Fitte is a good who has played a lot of football but this is his first year to really be looked upon as a starter to make big plays. He continues to get better. We have a lot of guys that continue to get better.”
Fitte led the Bulldogs with career-highs with 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, while Bryson Abraham added nine tackles and Kentrell Brice added eight tackles.
Tech outgained FIU, 472 yards to 308 yards, as the Bulldogs averaged 6.4 yards per play.
The Bulldogs return to action next Saturday, Oct. 3 when they host UL-Lafayette at 6 p.m. at Joe Aillet Stadium.
— Louisiana Tech Sports Information