WAXAHACHIE — The Braxton Harris coaching era began for Howard Payne University Saturday night, where the Yellow Jackets were dealt a 63-34 loss by the NAIA Southwestern Assemblies of God Lions in their only non-conference game of the season.
“I’m obviously disappointed in the outcome, but what was the most disappointing is that we shot ourselves in the foot. That’s the thing that we have to improve,” Harris said during his postgame radio interview. “What will be more disappointing is if we go on the road in two weeks to McMurry and haven’t fixed those things and haven’t gotten better.
“We cannot beat ourselves, we have to be physical and we have to play assignment football. We’re not in a position where we have guys that can overcome when they don’t do their assignment. That’s just where we are.”
Howard Payne (0-1) surrendered the game’s first 35 points before answering with 20 straight to close the halftime gap to 15 points. But SAGU (1-0) fired back with 21 consecutive points in the third period to build a 56-20 advantage, which put the game out of reach.
“I was proud of the kids in the second quarter, being down 35-0 and to come back, the kids showed fight,” Harris said. “That’s the stuff we’re trying to build upon here, the bricks that we need to build. We have to be able to see those things and praise those things.”
The Yellow Jackets surrendered 509 yards of total offense — 255 passing and 254 rushing — as tackling was an issue at times.
“The hardest thing about football now is how do you simulate tackling in fall camp,” Harris said. “We’re young and our depth isn’t great so we didn’t have a lot of full contact, take it to the ground tackling. That’s my fault for not having them ready to tackle. It’s something that we have to improve and something we will.”
SAGU’s J.P. Lowery rushed for 168 yards and two scores, Marco Matthews added 84 yards and three scores on the ground and C.J. Collins threw for 255 yards with three touchdown passes. Roderick Brown Jr. was the leading receiver with five grabs for 119 yards with two trips to the end zone.
Tevin Dawson and Austin Kilgore led Howard Payne with seven tackles apiece.
Offensively for HPU, the Yellow Jackets amassed 311 yards, with 236 coming on the ground. Quarterback Caisson Montieth completed 11 of 19 passes for 75 yards with a touchdown, while rushing for a team-high 77 yards and another score. Eric Haverstock caught a team-high six receptions for 46 yards, while Hunter Batten compiled 64 yards on ground followed by Claude Rogers with 33 and Kaidrion Latson with 28.
“For a committee of four freshmen, I was pleased with the way they ran,” Harris said of the ground game. “We need to get them a little more north and south at times, but being able to roll those four bodies in there, having fresh legs, makes a difference.”
Facing a 35-point deficit, HPU scored its first points on field goals of 30 and 35 yards by Jacob Walters. With 1:34 left in the opening half, a Batten 2-yard run closed the gap to 35-13. Then, with five seconds left until intermission, Montieth connected with Tariq Gray on a 22-yard scoring toss.
In the second half, Montieth’s 1-yard run with 12:24 left made the score 56-27, while Garrett Weaver reached the end zone on a 5-yard carry with 5:04 left.
After a bye next week, the Yellow Jackets begin a stretch of nine straight American Southwest Conference games on Sept. 16 at McMurry.
“No matter who lines up across from us we’re going to be excited to play football every Saturday afternoon,” Harris said. “Only three percent of high school athletes get a chance to play college football. But we need to be competitive in ball games, and the team we just played would be very competitive in the ASC, they’re no weak sister. At the end of the day we have to take care of ourselves if we’re going to give ourselves a chance to compete.”