After halting a 15-game losing streak last week at Belhaven, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets target back-to-back victories for the first time since they opened the 2014 campaign with three consecutive wins. The East Texas Baptist Tigers will attempt to deny the Yellow Jackets in their bid for a win streak as they invade Gordon Wood Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday for American Southwest Conference action.
The Yellow Jackets collected a 45-37 victory in Jackson, Mississippi this past Saturday, the first win for Howard Payne since Halloween 2015 – and first under new head coach Braxton Harris. HPU raced out to a 28-0 lead and held off a second-half Belhaven surge to improve to 1-2 in conference action and 1-3 for the season.
“It was good to see what we focused on all week come to fruition on Saturday,” Harris said. “We created some turnovers and we had some explosive plays and that’s what we were shooting for.
“It was our first time to come out with a fast start. It was 21-0 after one quarter and right at the start of the second quarter we scored to make it 28-0. I thought our kids came out ready to play and that’s exactly what we wanted. All three phases were hitting pretty well in the first quarter. We got into a third-and-8 on the first series and had an explosive play to Edwin Godfrey for a 50 or 60 yard touchdown pass, then he came back with another explosive play for a touchdown. The next series we had a big run from Brett Martinez and that was huge for us. And we did a good job limiting their explosive plays, which we consider anything over 20 yards, and getting them off the field.”
In the second half, Belhaven closed the gap to 28-24 and later 35-31, but the Yellow Jackets never relinquished their advantage.
“It was good to see our kids continue to be combative and persistent,” Harris said. “Those are things we talk about all the time around here. It’s not we score and it’s over, it’s going to be a contest the whole four quarters. We always talk about the difference in reacting and responding — reacting is when they get within four and we start thinking ‘Oh no, this isn’t good’ and responding is ‘What do I have to do to go and continue this process and continue helping our football team pull through.’ For a bunch of young kids, 48 freshmen and sophomores that we took to Mississippi, for them to be able to respond against a football team that had 22 seniors, I was really proud of them.”
With such a young squad, picking up what had been an elusive victory should only boost the team’s confidence going forward.
“For the first time some of those kids saw some positives on the football field,” Harris said. “How we won that game is what we talk about all the time — defensively we had four turnovers and three stops on fourth down, and to me that’s a turnover as well. Then the offense had three really big plays and scored more than 40 points. But the most impressive thing was the last drive, 12 plays and seven minutes where we needed to run the football to run the clock and not give them more possessions. They knew we were going to run it and we were able to continue down the field. And our kicker came in and kicked a field goal that put us up by two touchdowns. To me, that’s exactly who Howard Payne is — that’s Yellow Jacket football .
“What’s exciting is we won a football game last week but we didn’t play our best football, so that gives us a lot of hope these next six weeks as we push forward. We feel like we can go and compete with East Texas Baptist by doing the little things we’re asking the kids.”
East Texas Baptist (3-1, 2-1) enters Saturday’s game coming off its first loss — an 80-42 drubbing at the hands of No. 5 Hardin-Simmons — a week after rolling past Belhaven, 79-40. For the season, the Tigers are averaging 52 points and 552 yards — 421 passing and 131 rushing — per game, while yielding 39 points and 519 yards — 305 through the air and 214 on the ground — with 10 turnovers forced.
“ETBU is a really good football team,” Harris said. “Every year ETBU is going to challenge you with their offense, no question. I coached against them the last eight years, this is their fourth head coach, but their offense always seems to be the same, and defensively they do a really good job creating turnovers.
“Their quarterback, Dru Smith (95 of 147 for 1,481 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs), is a senior and he’s probably one of the best quarterbacks in the league in my opinion. The guy’s made a living being able to make plays with his feet but he also has an arm that he can throw it sideline to sideline. They also have a couple of receivers that are really good players as well, Richard Johnson (18-254, 4 TDs) and Xavier Gray (14-478, 5 TDs).”
Last week against Hardin-Simmons, ETBU surrendered 806 yards — including 444 rushing yards — as Coleman grad Jaquan Hemphill racked up 293 yards on the ground with seven touchdowns.
Those numbers could bode well for the Yellow Jackets Saturday, who are averaging 26 points and 294 yards per game, with 195 coming on the ground compared to just 99 through the air. Brett Martinez turned in a 115-yard, two-touchdown performance last week, while Hunter Batten added 90 yards and two scores on the ground. For the season, Batten has rushed for a team-high 280 yards and four scores trailed by Martinez with 152 yards and two trips to the end zone, and Kaidrion Laston with 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“We feel like we’ve been able to run the ball effectively all year, minus the Hardin-Simmons game which I think a lot people are going to have problems running the ball against those guys,” Harris said. “We feel like that’s a been a staple of our offense so far, so obviously we’re going to try and find ways to run the football, control the clock and be able to control the game. There are some things that (offensive coordinator) Coach (Coby) Gibson and (offensive line) Coach (Scott) Clough feel like we can do. I thought our backs last week, for a bunch of freshmen, they hit the hole and when they needed 3 or 4 yards they got it. That’s the same stuff we’re going to have to do this week.”
Through the air, HPU quarterback Mitchell Jennings has completed 18 of 47 passes for 265 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Leading receivers include Tariq Gray (12-144, TD), Eric Haverstock (11-100), Justin Barrera (5-14) and Godfrey (2-90 2 TDs).
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets are yielding 49 points and 495 yards — 274 passing and 221 rushing — per game with eight takeaways, but slowing down the Tigers will be a chore.
HPU is led defensively by Tevin Dawson (30 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception)
Austin Kilgore (25 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 1 sack), Jake Wright (20 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks), Colton Dickerson (19 tackles) and Patrick Hunt (11 tackles, 1 for loss, 3 interceptions).
“For us, it’s similar to Belhaven,” Harris said. “We’re playing another really good offensive team so we have to limit their touches and when they are out there we have to make sure we’re in the right place and play sound football.”