With 4:17 left in the first half, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets appeared well on their way to their first victory of the season after building a two-touchdown advantage in the home opener. Twenty-four unanswered points later, the Southwestern Assemblies of God Lions left the Yellow Jackets scratching their heads after a 27-17 loss Saturday night at Gordon Wood Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets (0-2) shot themselves in the foot by committing six turnovers as well as being penalized 11 times for 122 yards, which negated a 362-yard offensive effort that featured 236 yards on the ground.
“I told the kids after the game one of the hardest things in turning a program is learning how to win,” said HPU first-year head coach Roger Geise. “We had them on the ropes, but too many turnovers and too many penalties will get you beat every time. You can’t have six turnovers and over 120 yards in penalties and win football games.”
Adrian Lighteard, who missed the season opener due to health issues, rushed for 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns — covering 27 and 7 yards in the first half — to help the Yellow Jackets build their 17-3 edge.
“A figure that jumped out as a real positive is we rushed for 236 yards and I don’t know the last time that’s been done here,” Geise said. “Having Lighteard back made a big difference for us. He made some good plays and some good runs.”
Lighteard’s second touchdown carry provided to be the final points for Howard Payne, however, which owned the momentum to that point.
The tide began to shift in favor of SAGU (1-1) — which generated 298 total yards and committed three turnovers — just before halftime. The Lions marched 61 yards in 10 plays, aided by a Howard Payne personal foul, as Dylan Moore caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from former Yellow Jacket quarterback Reid Golson to cut the deficit to 17-10 with 28 seconds left before intermission.
“It was frustrating because we played so well in the first half, but our biggest problem right now is keeping our composure and not getting so many penalties at inappropriate times,” Geise said.
The Yellow Jackets maintained their seven-point cushion and were on the verge of adding to it on their second drive of the third period by advancing to the SAGU 4. Shakeem Taylor, who picked off two passes for the Lions last week, changed the entire complexion of the contest with a 100-yard interception return that knotted the score at 17 with 8:02 left in the quarter.
“We came out with a chance to make it 24-10 and instead it’s 17-17, and that’s where the worm turned right there,” Geise said. “We showed some flashes after that, but we lost a lot out of intensity at that particular point.”
On the Yellow Jackets’ ensuing drive, Howard Payne marched to the SAGU 12, but the drive ended without points after a missed 29-yard field goal attempt on the late in the third period.
SAGU responded with an 80-yard, 11-play trek that ate 6:57 off the clock as Cade Lueschner scored on a 3-yard run to give the Lions their first lead of the contest, 24-17, with 10:49 remaining.
Forced into catchup mode, the Yellow Jackets went three-and-out on the next drive, then advanced to the SAGU 46 before that drive stalled due to a fumble with 4:12 left on the clock.
SAGU followed with a seven-play, 21-yard drive that was capped by a 41-yard James Gish field goal with 1:10 remaining, which put the Yellow Jackets in a 10-point hole.
Howard Payne controlled the first period en route to opening a 10-0 advantage.
Though the Yellow Jackets turned the ball over on each of their first two possessions, SAGU failed to pick up a first down on either of its first two drives.
The Yellow Jackets’ third drive of the game — which came after a SAGU turnover — covered 19 yards in five plays as Mitchell Bailey converted a 35-yard field goal to push Howard Payne in front, 3-0, at the 3:15 mark of the opening quarter.
The next drive for Howard Payne began near midfield as Lighteard capped a 48-yard, four-play journey with a 27-yard touchdown carry.
The Lions responded with their first point-producing drive as SAGU ventured 54 yards in 11 plays before Gish connected on a 27-yard field goal that cut Howard Payne’s lead to 10-3 with 11:08 left before halftime.
The Yellow Jackets will shoot for their first victory of the season at 2 p.m. Saturday against Wayland Baptist, which has resurrected its football program this season after a lengthy absence from the gridiron.
Howard Payne’s last victory came on Sept. 17, 2011— nine games ago.