DALLAS - With the game tied at 24-24 at the 2:47 mark of the third quarter, the Southern Miss football team had the momentum and a shot to close strong just like it had all season.
Instead, Washington running back Myles Gaskin sucked the wind out of the Southern Miss sideline with the game's biggest play.
Following a 2-yard touchdown run by USM's Ito Smith, Gaskin answered with an 86-yard touchdown run. He found a gap on the left side of the line and sped through the USM secondary for the score.
Gaskin's run changed the course of the game and allowed Washington to pull away for a 44-31 victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl stadium.
"It's a game of momentum," USM head coach Todd Monken said. "(Gaskin) is a good player. We didn't get him on the ground."
USM (9-5) came up short of the fourth 10-win season in the program's history before a crowd of 20,229 that was largely dominated by black and gold.
Gaskin set a Heart of Dallas Bowl record with 26 rushes for 181 yards and four touchdowns for the best performance by a running back against USM in the 2015 campaign. The freshman was named the game's MVP.
Washington finished with a 7-6 record in Chris Petersen's second year on the job.
"I know Southern Miss has been a second half team," Petersen said. "I'm proud that our guys were able to grind it out in the second half and win."
While Gaskin put in a big day for Washington, USM senior receiver Mike Thomas was again outstanding with nine catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
The two scoring receptions Saturday gave Thomas 14 in 2015, breaking Sherrod Gideon's old school mark of 13 in 1998.
"He'll be playing next year for sure," Petersen said. "He's better than we thought he was and we thought he was really good going in."
Washington dominated the early going and had out-gained USM 106-0 when Gaskins punched it in from 2 yards out to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead at the 5:16 mark of the second quarter.
Thomas gave the Golden Eagles when he pulled in a Nick Mullens pass 20 yards down field and did the rest of the work by outrunning a talented Washington secondary for a 56 yard touchdown.
Thomas added a 27-yard touchdown reception with 5:22 remaining to cut the Washington lead to 41-31, but the damage was already done.
Thomas didn't show much satisfaction in his big day Saturday.
"I don't really care about the stats," Thomas said. "At the end of day, it's a team sport. I wanted to help my team win and we fell short."
USM played without two defensive starters in senior linebacker Brian Anderson and sophomore cornerback Cornell Armstrong. Monken said the two men were left out as a disciplinary measure.
"I tell our players all the time that discipline is the greatest form of love you can bestow upon anybody," Monken said. "That's the bottom line. Wand we had four players, I had to show them that love."
Monken did not say who the other two players were that were suspended.
Senior running back Jalen Richard sat out Saturday's game due to an unspecified injury and USM had just 22 yards rushing on 30 carries.
Mullens completed 25-of-38 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns.
Washington freshman quarterback Jake Browning was 23-of-34 for 284 yards.
In a game that was pitched as the powerful Southern Miss offense against the talented Washington defense, the Huskies out-gained USM, 580-375.