2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl final score: Louisiana Tech beats Illinois, 35-18
Big plays helped the Bulldogs pull away late and finish with a nine-win season.
Louisiana Tech held off an Illinois rally on Friday, pulling away late to win the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, 35-18, their first bowl win since 2008.
Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon piled up 142 yards from scrimmage and two scores while senior quarterback Cody Sokol took advantage of frequent coverage lapses in the Illini secondary, connecting on a trio of long passes en route to 246 yards passing and a touchdown.
Senior defensive end Houston Bates, who transferred from Illinois to Louisiana Tech before the season, piled up seven tackles and 5.5 sacks against his former team to earn game MVP.
Louisiana Tech improves to 9-5 while Illinois, playing in their first bowl game since 2011, finishes 6-7.
The biggest play of the game came on a goofy double fumble in the fourth quarter. Trailing by just three, Illinois got to Sokol for a sack-fumble, and LaKeith Walls scooped up the ball and rumbled deep into Louisiana Tech territory. But Walls was stripped from behind and Sokol managed to fall back on the ball.
The play backed the Bulldogs up 29 yards but gave them a first down. Sokol hit Carlos Henderson for a 70 yard pass down to the three-yard line, and two plays later, Dixon plowed in for a touchdown. Instead of scoring a go-ahead touchdown or hitting a game-tying field goal, the Illini found themselves down 28-18 with six minutes remaining.
Big plays were the story of the day for Louisiana Tech. Late in the first quarter, Sokol found Dixon streaking wide open down the right sideline and hit him in stride for an 80-yard score and a 14-3 lead.
Less than a quarter later, Bulldogs cornerback Xavier Woods stepped in front of an errant O’Toole pass and scampered 69 yards the other way, diving to the pylon to go up 21-9.
Illinois had ample opportunity to get themselves back in the game but were undone by missed kicks and bungled extra point attempts. They put themselves behind eight ball by missing a PAT following a second-quarter touchdown, forcing them to go for two when they visited the end zone again in the third quarter. That attempt came up short, leaving them trailing 15-21.