A Southern Miss touchdown had just tied the score in the third quarter of the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and the Washington Huskies suddenly seemed in some danger of losing a game they had mostly controlled in the first half.
But with one handoff to star tailback Myles Gaskin, the Huskies reclaimed the lead, and they did not relinquish it.
Gaskin’s 86-yard touchdown run put the Huskies ahead by a touchdown. A field goal early in the fourth quarter put UW up by 10 points. And Gaskin’s 13-yard touchdown on the Huskies’ following possession – his fourth of the game – sealed an eventual 44-31 victory before a crowd of dozens on Saturday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl Stadium.
The victory clinches a winning record for the Huskies, who won their final three games of the season to finish 7-6. This is their sixth consecutive season with a winning record. The win also marked their first bowl victory under second-year coach Chris Petersen.
Gaskin finished with 181 yards on 26 carries, a fitting performance to end a season in which he already set UW’s freshman rushing record.
UW quarterback Jake Browning threw for 284 yards on 23-of-34 passing, and the Huskies finished with 580 yards of total offense, their most in a game this season.
They scored with relative ease on three of their first four possessions. Gaskin capped a 63-yard drive with the first of his four touchdown runs, a 2-yard score that gave UW a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
After USM answered the Huskies’ first score with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Nick Mullens to Mike Thomas, Gaskin capped another steady drive with a short scoring plunge, this one a 1-yard run to put UW ahead 14-7.
UW led 21-10 after Jaydon Mickens took an end-around handoff 29 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter, and the Huskies appeared on their way to a comfortable victory.
But things changed late in the second quarter, when USM faked a punt on 4th-and-6 from its own 25-yard line. A pass by punter Tyler Sarrazin to defensive back Curtis Mikell gained 22 yards, and the Golden Eagles scored four plays later to trim the deficit to 21-17 at halftime.
They tied the score with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter, crafting a 57-yard scoring drive after recovering a fumble by UW receiver Marvin Hall.
But Gaskin burst for 86 yards on the next play from scrimmage, the Huskies forced a 3-and-out on USM’s next possession, and UW led 41-24 before the Golden Eagles scored again.
Thomas, USM’s leading receiver, was a problem for the Huskies. He finished with 9 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns, including a 27-yard catch with 5:22 to play. But the Huskies shut down USM’s rushing attack, limiting the Golden Eagles to just 22 yards on 30 attempts.
Van Winkle added a 23-yard field goal in the final minute to account for the final margin.
The Huskies were missing several key players due to undisclosed injuries. Starting nickelback Kevin King, freshman linebacker and special-teams contributor Ben Burr-Kirven, junior running back Dwayne Washington and freshman left tackle Trey Adams all sat out. Washington did not make the trip. Adams suited up but did not play, and King and Burr-Kirven each traveled but did not suit up.