The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets will be presented one final opportunity to eclipse last season’s win total as they host the Texas Lutheran Bulldogs at 2 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Wood Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets (1-8, 1-5) will attempt to snap a three-game slide against a Texas Lutheran squad (3-6, 1-5) in the midst of a five-game slump. Both teams, particularly Howard Payne, are looking for some much needed momentum heading into the offseason, along with sending their seniors off with a lasting memory.
“You want to leave with a good taste in your mouth,” said HPU first-year head coach Roger Geise. “You don’t want to have to wait until 2013 to get another victory. We’ve got 12 seniors who are in their last game and you want to send them out on a good note. They haven’t had many victories in their time frame, but I’d like to see those 12 leave here feeling good about themselves and their football experience. It’s important for everybody else, too. In the offseason our step will be a little lighter and it helps recruiting. Winning breeds success and brings in recruits, so getting a win in the final game is very important for everyone. It could be a very big boost.”
Howard Payne is coming off a 58-17 loss at Sul Ross, a game in which the Yellow Jackets led 14-3 in the first period.
“The first quarter went according to plan,” Geise said. “We knew we had to move the ball, move the sticks, get first downs and score, but we had to do it frequently. In the first quarter we did that. Everything we had to do to be successful we were doing and we did it for the most part through the first half, but then their athletic ability just took over. Once we got behind by a couple of scores, then it became evident that catching up was going to be very difficult. At a point reality sets in and you realize it’s not going to happen. I’m not suggesting our players quit by any stretch of the imagination, but you just know the inevitable is coming.”
Texas Lutheran, meanwhile, is coming off back-to-back overtime losses to Louisiana College (44-37) and Hardin-Simmons (65-58), who sit second and third in the American Southwest Conference standings. But the Bulldogs have also lost to Mississippi College (24-21), the team the Yellow Jackets defeated in ASC action.
“Mississippi College beat TLU the week after we beat them and held them to 21 points,” Geise said. “We’ve scoured that film because I think in many cases our athletes are similar to what Mississippi College has. We tried to take some things out of that film and utilize that this week to fit into our system and plan of attack, but they’re very capable of putting a bunch of points on the board.”
The Bulldogs enter the contest averaging 37 points and 472 yards — 327 passing and 145 rushing — per game, with 20 turnovers.
Quarterback Brent Peavy has completed 175 of 285 passes for 2,332 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while leading receivers for TLU include Cameron Peavy (45-713, 6 TDs), Lewis Williams (34-414, 4 TDs), Casey Davis (32-452, 2 TDs), Collin Bode (32-446, 5 TDs) and Dustin Hannon (23-480, 3 TDs). Top ground gainers for the Bulldogs include Therron Jerome (86-401), Dominique Hardaway (58-318, 3 TDs), Brent Peavy (104-202, 5 TDs) and Jo Jo Epps. (58-193, 6 TDs).
“TLU, offensively, is very much like Sul Ross,” Geise said. “They average about 470 yards a game which puts them about third or fourth in the conference, and that’s a lot of yards. I don’t know if they have the individual athletes like Sul Ross or some of our other competitors did, but they have pretty good athletes.”
Howard Payne’s defense — led by J.D. King (74 tackles, four sacks), Josh Eppler (64 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery), Victor Gonzales (62 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery), Bo Ross (57 tackles, 10 for loss, five sacks) and Xavier McFalls (40 tackles, two interceptions) — is surrendering 44 points and 464 yards, with 307 coming through the air, per outing.
The Texas Lutheran defense has struggled just as much as Howard Payne as the Bulldogs yield 40 points and 508 yards — 304 passing and 204 rushing — per contest.
“Defensively, they give up a lot of points,” Geise said. “They would have some embarrassing games if it wasn’t for their offense. Sul Ross was way ahead and they scored a bunch of points, came back and made it 70-65. In every game with the exception of the last two, for whatever reason they played Louisiana College to overtime and Hardin-Simmons to double-overtime, they’ve been down big in games, but their offense scores quickly enough to get them back in the game.”
Howard Payne leads the ASC in time of possession and has not shown to be a quick strike offense this season as they produce 16 points and 294 yards — 156 rushing and 138 passing — with 34 turnovers, an average of almost four per outing.
Quarterback Thomas Head has completed 121 of 214 passes for 1,081 yards with four touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while leading rushers are Adrian Lighteard (112-625, 2 TDs), Head (112-305, 5 TDs), Zarron Dove (78-244, 3 TDs) and Joseph Bell (35-120, TD). Top receiving threats for HPU include Tyson Swanner (27-274), Karl Stewart (25-203), Astin Murray (13-100, TD), Tristian Fuentes (10-237, TD) and John Williams (7-64, TD).
“Offensively, I just want to see us maintain control,” Geise said. “We’ve got to control the ball. We can’t give them extra opportunities by fumble, interception or things like that. You give them four or five extra chances and they’re going to score at least once or twice. We have to play within ourselves, move the sticks, keep the ball, get points when we can.
“Defensively, we have to scramble all over the place and stay after it and create some turnovers, which we’ve been very poor at this year. We have to give an outstanding effort on both sides of the ball.”