College football: Tech shuts out Miami in Walk-On’s Independence Bowl

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In the first 43 Independence Bowls, no team recorded a shutout.

One has now. 

The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs blanked the Miami Hurricanes 14-0 in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl on Thursday before an announced crowd of 33,129 at Independence Stadium.

Tech finished 10-3, reaching double-digit wins for the first time in 34 years. The Bulldogs extended their bowl winning streak to six under seventh-year head coach Skip Holtz.

“I can’t say enough about these players especially this senior class and what they’ve been able to do while they’ve been here at Louisiana Tech,” Holtz said. “To be able to have a 10-win season, which is the first time, I believe, since we’ve been (FBS).

“To put a Power Five (conferences) win on our resume, a Power Five win in a bowl game.

“To do what this team has accomplished, to go out, the seniors, to go out tied for first as the winningest class in history since we’ve gone Division I (in 1989). I can’t put into words my feelings and emotions for what they were able to accomplish.”

Miami finished 6-7 in Manny Diaz’s first year as head coach. The Hurricanes haven’t won a bowl game since 2016.

Miami was shut out for the first time since October 2015 against Clemson. The fewest points the Hurricanes scored this season was 16 in a 16-12 victory over Pitt.

“Obviously credit to them,” Diaz said. “They made more plays than we did. I can’t fault the effort of our players. Certainly proud of the way our kids played, particularly defensively with their backs against the wall all night. 

“Our inefficiency on offense and our inability to sustain drives gave us no chance to win this football game.”

To say the game was a defensive struggle would be an understatement. Each team punted nine times for a combined bowl record of 18.

Miami, which tried three quarterbacks, didn’t reach 200 yards in total offense until the final minutes. The Hurricanes finished with 227 and never advanced past the Bulldogs 35-yard line.

It was Tech’s first shutout since 2011.

“There are nine seniors on that defense,” Holtz said. “When you talk about the seniors in the secondary, all three linebackers – Collin Scott, Connor Taylor and James Jackson – Courtney Wallace was an absolute beast tonight inside. He was amazing. Ka’Derrion Mason played great. Darryl Lewis, L’Jarius Sneed and Michael Sam, Aaron (Roberson), so many guys, they really bought in.

“I’ve always said I’m OK winning a football game 2-0, but the offense screwed it up tonight because they scored 14. It was that type of effort. It was an unbelievable performance. I commend (defensive coordinator) Bob Diaco, (assistant coaches Brian) Gamble, (Jeff) Burris, (Dennis) Smith, (Rick) Petri for the job they’ve done.”

Tech fared a little better on offense, finishing with 337 (174 rushing, 163 passing.)

“I don’t care if we punt 14 times,” Holtz said. “I don’t care if we punt once. We just have to find a way to win. That’s the motto we have. We don’t have a team goal of we have to score ‘x’ amount of points. We just have to score one more point than they do.”

While the game lacked offensive fireworks, it did have suspense.

Tech scored on a 25-yard pass from J’Mar Smith to Israel Tucker with 9:34 left in the second quarter. That capped a 13-play, 91-yard drive. Justin Henderson, named the game’s  Outstanding Offensive Player, carried six times.

Miami’s best scoring opportunity in the first half was derailed by a penalty. On fourth-and-5 from the Tech 32, quarterback Jarren Williams gained 8 yards. But the Hurricanes were called for a personal foul and punted on the first play of the second quarter.

Miami’s defense kept the Hurricanes in the game. 

Early in the fourth quarter, Gilbert Frierson intercepted a Smith pass at the Miami 21, thwarting a promising drive. Around the Tech 45, he tried to lateral but the end result was an illegal forward pass.

Still, the Hurricanes took over at midfield.

Miami converted a third-and-7 to the Tech 35. An illegal procedure penalty moved the ball back and the Tech defense stepped up again. After the Hurricanes gained a yard on a run, N’Kosi Perry threw two incompletions and the Hurricanes punted.

The score was still 7-0 when Miami took over at its 20 with 5:28 to play in the game.

On third-and-7 from the 35, Tech’s Tristan Allen was called for targeting. The penalty moved the ball to midfield.

After offsetting penalties, former Huntington star Roberson picked off a Perry pass at the 37 and returned it to the Tech 44.

“Hats off to the defensive line,” Roberson said. “They got pressure on the quarterback. From the film, I knew what he was running. I just made a play on the ball. The defensive line got pressure and got the quarterback out of the pocket. I just had to capitalize and make a play to get the offense back on the field.”

Smoke Harris and Smith had runs of 16 and 26 yards to set the Bulldogs up with a first-and-goal at the 8. Smith then score with 1:15 left to play.

Smith completed 13 of 28 passes for 163 yards with the one interception. Henderson rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries with most of the yardage coming in the first half.

Taylor, named the game’s Outstanding Defensive Player, led the Tech defense with nine total tackles. Former Benton standout Ezekiel Barnett was in on six tackles and had a sack.

Malik Stanley led the Bulldogs receivers with three catches for 75 yards.

Williams and Perry combined to complete 14 of 33 passes for 146 yards and two interceptions. Tate Martell played one series and completed one pass for 7 yards.

Cam’Ron Harris led Miami on the ground with 31 yards on 12 carries.

Sam Brooks Jr. and Shaq Quarterman were in on 12 and 11 tackles, respectively.

— Featured photo by Robert Summerlin