As the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets embark on their longest road trip of the season, first-year head coach Braxton Harris believes the key to returning to Brownwood with their first victory lies in the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets (0-3, 0-2) visit the Belhaven Blazers (1-2, 0-2) in American Southwest Conference action at 7 p.m. Saturday in Jackson, Mississippi. Howard Payne is looking for its first points of the first period, as the Yellow Jackets have been outscored 57-0 in the opening stanza this season.
“If you look at the numbers, the first quarter numbers are staggering,” Harris said. “We have to come out and win the first quarter. We can’t break even, we have to win it.”
Howard Payne is facing a Belhaven squad that surrendered 79 points and 632 yards — 455 passing and 177 rushing — in a 39-point loss at East Texas Baptist last week. For the season, the Blazers are yielding 51 points and 523 yards — 312 through the air and 211 on the ground — on average.
“Our offense has run the football really well minus last week and that might have been one of the better defensive lines I’ve seen Hardin-Simmons have the past eight years,” Harris said. “It gives us a great deal of confidence that our kids can run the football. We saw some matchups that were good for us in some spots. Holistically it wasn’t all good, but there’s still some guys who their one-on-one matchups. We have to win more them than we did last Saturday. But we have confidence that we can run the ball and will be able to push the ball the downfield.”
On the flip side, Belhaven features the air raid offense of head coach Hal Mumme and is producing 27 points and 443 yards per outing, with 411 yards coming through the air. The Blazers have, however, coughed up the ball 10 times.
“Hal Mumme is the head coach there and father of the air raid offense so you better get ready for them to throw the ball around quite a bit,” Harris said. “It’s all about explosive plays with them and eliminating the explosive plays with our defense. Then our offense has to create some explosive plays of their own.”
The Yellow Jackets enter the contest averaging 19 points and 287 yards per game — 189 rushing and 97 passing — with four turnovers.
Quarterback Mitchell Jennings has taken over the offense and completed 14 of 33 passes for 165 yards, with 57 yards rushing. Leading rushers include Hunter Batten (190 yards, 2 TDs), Kaidrion Latson (67 yards, 2 TDs), Brett Martinez (37 yards) and Claude Rogers (33 yards), while top receiving threats include Tariq Gray (12-144, TD), Eric Haverstock (10-95), Justin Barrera (5-14) and Jordan Lewis (2-25).
Belhaven’s offense, meanwhile, is led by quarterback Hunter McEachern, who has connected on 89 of 147 passes for 1,055 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Receiving options include Jacob McNeill (22-296, 2 TDs), Nolan Satcher (15-149, 4 TDs), Kyky Austin (13-243) and Marquis Hedge (13-44), while Brad Foley (19-92) is the top ground gainer.
Leading the charge for the HPU defense — which allows 53 points and 516 yards, 265 rushing and 251 passing, per outing — are Tevin Dawson (25 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1 sack), Austin Kilgore (22 tackles, 1.5 for loss 1 sack), Colton Dickerson (14 tackles), Jake Wright (12 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Darius Edwards (10 tackles).
Standouts for the Belhaven defense include Denarrius Noel (22 tackles, 2 sacks), Keith Marshall (20 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 fumble recovery), Seth Gatson (17 tackles), Davis Lewis (16 tackles, 1 for loss), Latevinan Glass (16 tackles) and Maurice Stewart (15 tackles, 1 interception).
Howard Payne is coming off a 63-3 loss to No. 6 Hardin-Simmons in last week’s home opener at Gordon Wood Stadium.
“We saw a team last week that was absolutely a program and that’s why they’re a top 5 team in the nation every year and they performed like that, no question about it,” Harris said. “Our kids got into some right spots, did some good things at times. That was a measuring stick for where we want to be able to be. I think we have the right kids on campus that can grow into those spots, we just have to be able to grow into those spots. I was very happy with how hard our kids played, I didn’t think there was anybody that didn’t give the effort that we wanted to see.”