PLAINVIEW — After letting a second-half lead slip away in the home opener last week, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets witnessed a nine-point advantage vanish in the final four minutes Saturday as the Wayland Baptist Pioneers rallied for their first victory in 72 years, 27-23.
NAIA Wayland Baptist (1-1), resurrecting its football program for the first time since 1940, dropped Howard Payne to 0-3 for the season and extended the Yellow Jackets’ overall drought to 10 games dating back to Sept. 17 of last season.
“That was a wail of a football game but, unfortunately, we came out on the wrong end of things,” said HPU first-year head coach Roger Geise. “I told the kids all week I thought they had us circled and that they thought we could be their first win, and they came out and played liked it. I had no clue how good they might be. They lost to a Division II school last week but you can’t get a good handle on anything with that. I thought our kids did a good job and we had our chances, we just didn’t get it done again.”
Howard Payne finished with 349 yards of total offense — 187 rushing and 162 passing — and held the ball almost 15 minutes longer than Wayland Baptist, which produced 408 yards with 259 coming through the air.
Adrian Lighteard rushed for 97 yards to pace the HPU ground attack, while Zarron Dove contributed 42 yards and quarterback Thomas Head chipped in 33 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Head also completed 19 of 22 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tyson Swanner caught five passes for 33 yards, Karl Stewart grabbed five catches for 29 yards, Tristan Fuentes finished with three grabs for 76 yards and John Williams caught two passes for 28 yards with a touchdown.
Defensively, J.D. King chalked up 11 tackles to lead the Yellow Jackets followed by nine from Josh Eppler, six from Victor Gonzales and five from Jonne Warnstaff.
For Wayland Baptist, Kendall Roberson rumbled to four touchdowns and gained 169 yards on the ground to ignite the Pioneer offense. Luis Gonzalez completed 21 of 34 passes for 259 yards with an interception, while Saul Elizaide grabbed a team-high six receptions for 73 yards.
Kevin Carter collected nine tackles for WBU, while Blair Magee added seven and Jon-Lucas Poe chipped in with six takedowns.
When the fourth quarter began, the Yellow Jackets trailed 14-10. However, Howard Payne took its first drive of the final period 52 yards in four plays as Head connected with Williams on a 27-yard scoring toss that pushed the Yellow Jackets back in front, 16-14, with 11:17 to go.
On the ensuing kick, Wayland Baptist coughed up the ball, which HPU recovered on the Pioneer 40. Three plays later, the Yellow Jackets were back in the end zone as Head scored on a 5-yard carry that increased the Howard Payne advantage to 23-14 with 10:17 remaining.
“When we got the fumble on the kickoff return and went in and scored I thought we were in pretty good position,” Geise said. “But again, we just didn’t get it finished and we had every opportunity to do it. We just didn’t take advantage of it.”
Howard Payne and Wayland Baptist exchanged punts on the next two possessions, then the Pioneers mounted a 14-play, 62-yard march that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run by Roberson with 3:47 left.
Needing to pick up only a couple of first downs to run out the clock, the Yellow Jackets lost two yards back to their own 21, ran out of bounds on third down to stop the clock and shanked a 9-yard punt to set up the Pioneers at the HPU 30 with 1:53 remaining.
Wayland Baptist traveled 30 yards in a handful of plays with Roberson scoring the winning 2-yard touchdown with 47 seconds left.
Howard Payne received the ball once more at its own 24, but committed its only turnover of the game with 25 seconds left to conclude the final outcome.
“When you have someone down 23-14 you’ve got to finish it and we did not finish it,” Geise said. “A couple of first downs or whatever would have finished it. Then we didn’t protect well on the punt and shanked it out of bounds and that gave them the winning score because they didn’t have to go very far. It’s the little things that just keep driving you nuts as a football coach, but you have to keep working on them.”
The Yellow Jackets have a bye next week then open American Southwest Conference action at Louisiana College on Sept. 29.
“We’re at a crucial point right now,” Geise said. “They’re either going to stay in the boat or start bickering amongst themselves. If we start bickering, we’re going to have issues, but those guys doing the bickering will not be a part of our football program.
“I saw a lot of hurt people today. That’s two weeks in a row where their emotions were drained and by their reactions you can tell they gave everything they had. We had some great efforts, and then some weren’t very good which is the case any time you lose a football game. It’s just a long struggle we’re facing right now.”