The outcome of the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets’ season opener didn’t go as planned, but first-year head coach Roger Geise’s resolve was not deterred by last weekend’s 56-7 loss to 12th-ranked Trinity.
“I’m disappointed that we lost, but had we lost 7-6 I would have still been disappointed,” Geise said. “I’m not so sure getting beat 56-7 isn’t a little easier to take, but I’m not discouraged. I saw some good things, especially in the first half when the game wasn’t out of reach. The score is not indicative of the game because we gave them a lot of opportunities on the short end of the field.”
Putting the defeat in the past took a little longer than Geise anticipated, but the Yellow Jackets (0-1) are now focusing on the future and the continuation of the rebuilding project as the Southwestern Assemblies of God Lions (0-1) visit in Saturday’s 6 p.m. home opener at Gordon Wood Stadium.
“I felt like Tuesday after practice everyone was walking around looking like a basset hound with a long face,” Geise said. “I’ve gotten a sense at times that they thought since we changed coaches and everything we were just going to start winning. It doesn’t work that way. That’s what I tried to explain. Along with all that, it still takes hard work.”
Against Trinity, the Yellow Jackets finished with 233 yards of total offense, including 136 through the air, but turned the ball over four times. Thomas Head was 18 of 26 passing with a touchdown to Matt Melendez as 11 receivers caught at least one pass, led by Tyson Swanner with six receptions for 44 yards. On the ground, Zarron Dove picked up 61 yards in place of Adrian Lighteard, who missed the game due to health issues.
“Offensively we didn’t have our best running back, but our offensive line did a good job moving people off the ball and protecting the passer,” said Geise, who added the Yellow Jackets should be at full strength Saturday.
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets yielded 481 yards but only 97 on the ground. HPU did not create a turnover, however, and gave up seven touchdown passes. J.D. King and Jonne Warnstaff recorded eight tackles each, followed by seven from Bo Ross and six from Josh Eppler.
“Our run defense was good but I’m taking that with a grain of salt because if you can score going over the top, why would you bother trying to hammer it,” Geise said. “We did make some good plays, though.”
SAGU surprised the Yellow Jackets, 21-15, last season and Geise feels the Lions will be able to provide Howard Payne with another stern test Saturday night.
“SAGU is looking at this as a game they can win and we have to overcome that,” Geise said. “Howard Payne doesn’t exactly bring fear to anybody anymore. Prior to 2005 that was true, but since then we haven’t won a lot of games. I told them it’s like we’re at the bottom of the ocean looking up. We have to bring our ‘A’ game every week. We can’t look at any game on the schedule and say we know we’ll win that game. We’re not in that position anymore.”
The Lions are coming off a 13-12 loss to NAIA No. 24 Bethany in which they led 12-7 until the 4:33 mark of the fourth period.
SAGU allowed just 238 yards and forced four turnovers, including three interceptions – two by Shakeem Taylor and one from Kendal Evers.
Offensively, SAGU chalked up 260 total yards, with just 82 on the ground, and turned the ball over twice. Former HPU quarterback Reid Golson completed 12 of 24 passes for 178, while James Gish accounted for all the points with field goals of 28, 39, 34 and 28 yards.
“They’ve become a lot more competitive the last couple of years and have shown remarkable improvement,” Geise said. “They’re very big on both sides of the ball, but they are huge on the offensive line. We are very familiar with Reid Golson and know he can create a lot of headaches for us.
“Defensively they run a 3-4 along with a 3-3 stack. They’re not quite as big, but still pretty bulky. They blitz quite a bit and will be a tremendous challenge for us.”
As for what it will take for HPU to emerge with a 1-1 record after Saturday’s home opener, Geise pointed to a reduction in turnovers and fewer big plays allowed on the defensive end.
“We just have to play our game,” Geise said. “The areas we had weaknesses in we worked hard on, like pass defense and holding on to the football. We just have to execute our techniques and assignments and if we score a few points, we’ll be all right. We have to bring our ‘A’ game. It will be a struggle, but they all will until we start winning.”