By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL/Designated Writers

RUSTON – There will come a time in the future when Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz will remember that day in 2019 when his team beat Southern Miss 45-30. He will remember that it was on a beautiful Saturday. He’ll recall how the crowd seemed more alive than it had in a long time at Joe Aillet Stadium.

And there will be no shortage of things he could recall … how a transfer wide receiver put himself in the school record book … how a cornerback who always seems to have a knack of making plays had three interceptions … how his team got off the deck after being smacked in the mouth to the tune of 14-0 after just nine minutes.

But what Holtz might remember the most was what happened after the game when the team was walking off the field and one of his players came up to him. “Coach,” he said, “thanks for believing in us.”

It is hard not to, after seeing what Tech did Saturday in the win over the Golden Eagles.

After the game, Holtz managed to channel his inner Aristotle. “I told them at halftime that there are three aspects of time – the past, the present, and the future,” Holtz said. “And the only way we were going to win this game was in the present.”

The past was very much in play in the buildup to this game. Holtz had never beaten Southern Miss during his time as Tech head coach, lowlighted by a loss two years ago in Ruston that truly had to be seen to be comprehended.

So you can understand why Holtz and the Bulldogs might have had that here-we-go-again feeling when De’Michael Harris took the opening kickoff and housed it to give USM a 7-0 lead. On the next possession, Southern Miss looked to be on the way to a curb-stomping with a 12-play, 95-yard drive.

But something strange happened on the Tech sideline during that time. Nothing. “The players never flinched,” Holtz said. “Nobody blinked. Nobody got mad. If anything, encouraging words are what I heard the most.”

“You feel the momentum, but we strive for greatness every day in practice, so we are prepared for this situation,” said senior wide receiver Malik Stanley. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight, so that’s what we expected.”

The present that Holtz referred to at halftime turned out even better than he could have anticipated. Trailing 27-24 after two quarters, the Bulldogs only allowed three points in the second half, due in great part to a 5-foot-9 cornerback who took it personally about the reputation of the Golden Eagles receivers.

“That motivated me a lot,” said junior Amik Robertson. “I am the best corner(back) in the conference. That’s why I want to guard the best wide receiver they got. May the best man win.”

Little question who the best man was when this was all over. Robertson had three interceptions, including one in the end zone that completely changed the momentum in Tech’s favor and another that ended the game. Nine Golden Eagles caught passes in the game and only one had more than Robertson — who played for the other team.

Who knows what the future will hold for Stanley, but his present on Saturday was the kind of stuff dreams are made of. The transfer from South Alabama has started five games, but he’s not exactly been the go-to receiver. He had all of one reception in the last two games combined.

But when one starter didn’t make it through warmup and another got hurt on the third play of the game, the Bulldogs needed someone in the present. The immediate present.

“The plan on Monday was not to make this the Malik Stanley Show,” Holtz said. “But that’s what it turned into. It was awesome.”

It was certainly something. Stanley became the 14th receiver in school history to have more than 200 yards in reception, including being on a business end of a spectacular Houdini act that quarterback J’Mar Smith performed to avoid a sack and find Stanley for a 37-yard completion (on the play after a 32-yard pass to Stanley) that put the ball at the USM 2.

Justin Henderson scored on the next play to cut the Golden Eagles lead to 27-24 at halftime.

“Malik Stanley was a rock star today,” Holtz said. “What did he have … over 200 yards receiving? And that’s only because we didn’t throw it to him more. He stepped up and we have said from the very beginning that for us to accomplish the things we want, we are going to need someone step up. Malik did an unbelievable job.”

Unbelievable if you consider that Stanley had more yards Saturday (212) than he did in the previous six games (182). “I think I expected a lot out of myself, knowing that there were some people who couldn’t go today,” Stanley said. “I always expect greatness from myself so I wasn’t really surprised.”

With the past and present taken care of, Holtz and the Bulldogs can now turn their attention to the future, which was looking pretty good in the aftermath. Tech is now alone atop the West Division of Conference USA with a 3-0 record and 6-1 overall.

“That’s just one stepping stone,” Stanley said. “We got 6 wins, so we are bowl eligible. That was the main stepping stone. I don’t think it was Southern Miss. I think it was just the next team in front of us. We get back in the lab and keep doing what we are supposed to do. Keep grinding and do what we are supposed to do on and off the field and things will come together.”

“I told the team that the 2019 Bulldogs are going to attack,” Holtz said. “We weren’t going out there to play a conservative game. We were going out there to take it. We weren’t going to wait for them to give it to us. We all had the same mindset and the same battle cry — go out there and attack for 60 minutes and let’s see what the scoreboard says when the dust settles.”