Yellow Jackets tally first 28 points en route to first victory since Halloween 2015
JACKSON, Miss. — For the first time since Halloween 2015, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets football program is celebrating a victory.
Just one play into the second period, the Yellow Jackets had already amassed four touchdowns on the way to knocking off the Belhaven Blazers, 45-37, in American Southwest Conference action Saturday night.
The victory snapped a 15-game losing streak for HPU and served as the initial victory under first-year head coach Braxton Harris.
What was a 28-point lead for Howard Payne (1-3, 1-2) was whittled down to only four points twice in the second half, but the Yellow Jackets kept Belhaven (1-3, 0-3) at arm’s length down the stretch.
The Yellow Jackets were outgained 432-316 in total yardage, but the Howard Payne defense forced four turnovers which set up a short field for the offense.
HPU freshman quarterback Mitchell Jennings, making only his second start, was injured during the game and did not return, still the Yellow Jackets were able to prevail thanks to 211 yards on the ground.
Brett Martinez led the charge for HPU with 115 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns while Hunter Batten chipped in 90 yards and two scores.
Before leaving the contest, Jennings completed 4 of 14 passes for 100 yards with a pair of scoring strikes to Edwin Godfrey, covering 53 and 37 yards.
Defensively for Howard Payne, Tevin Dawson and Patrick Hunt intercepted passes with returns of 57 and 35 yards, respectively, while Adrien Barrientos and Caisson Montieth recovered fumbles. Jake Wright led the way with eight tackles, followed by five each from Dawson and Colton Dickerson.
Belhaven quarterback Hunter McEachern completed 25 of 41 passes for 317 yards with four touchdowns and two picks, as Kyky Austin finished with three grabs for 98 yards and two touchdowns and LaMarcus Caradine added three catches for 53 yards and two trips to the end zone. Brad Foley led the ground game with 71 yards.
After being outscored 57-0 in the first quarter of its first three contests, Howard Payne owned a 21-0 advantage over Belhaven when the opening stanza was done. Harris stated earlier in the week the biggest key to a Yellow Jacket victory was a quick start.
Just 4:25 into the game Howard Payne was on the board as Godfrey hauled in a 53-yard scoring toss from Jennings, capping a three-play, 56-yard drive after Belhaven punted after gaining only one first down.
Belhaven failed to convert a fourth-and-9 from its own 38 on its second possession, and Howard Payne took over 33 yards from the end zone. Martinez covered that distance on his first carry of the game, scoring the Yellow Jackets’ second touchdown for a 14-0 advantage at 8:23 of the first period.
The Blazers’ third possession quickly ended when Dawson intercepted McEachern and returned the ball to the Belhaven 8. Two plays later Batten scored from 3 yards out, and Howard Payne owned a 21-0 lead with 6:16 to go in the opening period.
Hunt halted Belhaven’s fourth drive with an interception at the HPU 21 that he returned to the Blazer 45. Following six straight run plays, Jennings again found Godfrey for a 37-yard scoring connection to extend the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 28-0 on the first snap of the second period.
Belhaven regrouped from its nightmarish start and closed the gap to 28-17 by halftime, scoring on McEachern passes of 36 yards to Austin and 28 yards to Caradine, coupled with a 29-yard Nick Guzman field goal.
The Blazers also tallied the first points of the second half to close the gap to 28-24 as Nolan Satcher caught a 4-yard scoring toss from McEachern just 1:41 into the third period.
Howard Payne was able to push the lead back to double figures, 35-24, at the 9:51 mark after Barrientos recovered a Belhaven fumble inside the Blazer 10. On the next snap, Martinez scored on a 9-yard carry.
Again Belhaven crept within four points, 35-31, as Austin hauled in a 57-yard scoring toss from McEachern at the 9:31 mark of the third period. The Yellow Jackets defense stiffened at that point, however, and did not allow another Belhaven point until Caradine caught a 9-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds left.
In the meantime, Howard Payne added another touchdown and a field goal to boost its advantage to 45-31. First, Batten scored from 5 yards out with 12:25 left to cap an eight-play, 35-yard drive after an 18-yard punt return by Dawson. Then, with 2:51 left, Jacob Walters booted a 23-yard field goal to finish off a 13-play, 58-yard drive that chewed 7:12 off the clock.
Though Belhaven added another score in the final minute, HPU recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
The Yellow Jackets will shoot for a win streak next weekend against East Texas Baptist (3-1, 2-1), which is coming off an 80-42 loss to No. 6 Hardin-Simmons. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Wood Stadium.