- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - For the past four years, Kenneth Dixon has served as the engine of Louisiana Tech’s running game.

Saturday afternoon, Dixon and his Bulldogs teammates did most of their damage through the air.

Dixon caught a pair of touchdowns and ran for a third, all in the second half, as Louisiana Tech rallied past Southern Miss 31-20 before 23,343 at Roberts Stadium.

“We came in at halftime and said we were going to open it up more, and we were going to start putting the ball down the field,” Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz said. “We were having a hard time getting the ball to Kenneth Dixon, so we said we were going to start utilizing him as a receiver.”

Dixon’s career-long 84-yard catch-and-run on the second snap of the second half gave the Bulldogs (5-3, 4-0 Conference USA) their first lead, and he added a 5-yard reception that broke a 10-10 tie at the end of the third quarter.

His six catches for 124 yards and the two scores were all career bests.

“He’s one of those special guys who can do it all,” said quarterback Cody Sokol, who completed 27 of 46 passes for a career-high 423 yards and three touchdowns, including a 29-yard hookup with Carlos Henderson early in the final period.

It was the second-most passing yards by an opposing quarterback at Roberts Stadium.

Dixon, who rushed for 41 yards on 19 carries, scored Louisiana Tech’s final points on a 1-yard run late in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs won their third consecutive game to remain atop Conference USA’s West Division. It was the first time Louisiana Tech had won in Hattiesburg since 1982.

Southern Miss (3-5, 1-3) lost starting quarterback Nick Mullens on the first series of the game to a foot injury.

Backup Cole Weeks, who played one series at Alabama this season and sat out 2013, completed 28 of 45 for 338 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. He also was sacked five times.

“Cole fought his rear end off,” Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. “You talk about a guy who gets what, 10 reps a day? Maybe five reps of seven-on-seven? I thought he played his heart out.”

Michael Thomas had seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown for the Golden Eagles, while Markese Triplett grabbed six passes for 114 yards.

Both teams’ running games sputtered. Louisiana Tech netted just 30 yards on 26 carries, while Southern Miss netted a minus-31 yards on 26 carries.

George Payne ripped off the Golden Eagles’ longest run of the game, 18 yards, to give Southern Miss a 7-0 lead. It marked the fifth consecutive game that Payne had scored.

Kyle Fischer’s 24-yard field goal pulled the Bulldogs to within 7-3 at halftime.

After receiving the second-half kickoff, Sokol found a wide-open Dixon squatting in the middle of the Southern Miss zone defense, and he did the rest, breaking free at 40-yard line and outrunning the pursuit down the sideline for a 10-7 lead.

“We gave up too many big plays,” Monken said. “To start the second half, you give up a check-down for 85 yards. That can’t happen, but it is part of it. It happens. You give up big plays, you are going to lose.”

Corey Acosta tied the game with a 44-yard field goal, but Sokol guided the Bulldogs on a 14-play, 73-yard drive that he capped with the 5-yard pass to Dixon in the flat that gave Louisiana Tech the lead for good.

“It feels good to win during a hard-fought game, and really, any game at that,” Dixon said. “Winning against a rival just shows how much the team wants it and how deep you’re going to dig down and continue to fight.”

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