Coming off their first victory since Halloween 2015, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets were denied in their quest for their first win streak since the initial three games of the 2014 campaign as the East Texas Baptist Tigers chalked up a 57-7 American Southwest Conference victory Saturday night at Gordon Wood Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets (1-4, 1-3) coughed up the ball on four occasions, while the Tigers (4-1, 3-1) did not commit a turnover and generated 504 yards of total offense — 366 passing and 138 rushing. A week after surrendering 804 total yards in an 80-42 loss to Hardin-Simmons, ETBU limited Howard Payne to 293 yards — 147 through the air and 146 on the ground.
“I thought our kids played hard, but we had two interceptions and two fumbles and when you’re playing a good team like East Texas Baptist, as good as their offense is, you can’t give them multiple possessions,” said HPU first-year head coach Braxton Harris. “Guys that win make plays and we had two or three opportunities at balls on defense, and we had chances at two or three on the other side where we’re one block away or we drop a ball on the perimeter, something like that. If we get those things, we’d like to see how the ball game goes from there.”
ETBU quarterback Dru Smith completed 16 of 32 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns, as Richard Johnson caught seven passes for 164 yards and three scores and Xavier Gray added three grabs for 111 yards with a trip to the end zone.
“Dru Smith, in my opinion, is the best quarterback in the league,” Harris said. “You’re not going to find another one that can throw it sideline to sideline. And ETBU is a good football team, a veteran team and you saw that tonight. That’s what we have to continue to be able to grow to, get guys that are here three and four years that grow and compete.”
The Yellow Jackets started their third different quarterback of the season — and second true freshman — in Jaxson Durham, who connected on 17 of 35 passes for 147 yards and two interceptions.
“I thought Jaxson did a great job and I thought he got better every single day this week in practice,” Harris said. “A lot of people will see the result out here on the football field but they won’t see where we started on Monday and what that kid committed to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and how much better he got through that process.”
Edwin Godfrey hauled in four passes for 56 yards before leaving with an injury.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries,” Harris said. “We had 18 kids not practicing on Tuesday and eight of those 18 were season-ending injuries. But to our guys’ credit, they have the next man up mentality. You don’t see anybody waling, you don’t see any gnashing of teeth, it’s someone’s opportunity and they come to work every single day with that mentality.”
Kaidrion Latson added five grabs for 39 yards, Eric Haverstock caught four passes totaling 20 yards and Chase Eisenmann finished with three catches for 30 yards.
On the ground, Hunter Batten again led the HPU ground game with 73 yards and the Yellow Jackets’ lone touchdown, while Brett Martinez added 57 yards rushing.
Defensively, Jake Wright led HPU with seven tackles followed by Austin Kilgore with six and Tevin Dawson and Brady Wade with five apiece.
Big plays plagued the Yellow Jackets in the first half as ETBU scored on passes of 65 and 46 yards from Smith to Johnson, and 78 yards from Smith to Gray, while Ryan Travis booted a 31-yard field goal as the Tigers built a 22-0 halftime lead.
“It was only 16-0 for a while in the first half,” Harris said. “They got three points on their only drive, but we gave up three big plays. We held them to under 50 yards rushing in the first half, all their yards and big plays came through the air.”
ETBU tacked on three more touchdowns — a 9-yard Smith run, a 1-yard toss from Smith to Johnson and a 49-yard interception return by Ty Parsons — as the Tigers opened a 43-0 advantage by the end of the third period.
Howard Payne produced its only touchdown with 10:28 left in the contest as Batten capped an 11-play, 61-yard trek with a 2-yard plunge.
East Texas Baptist added two more scores before time ran out on runs of 4 and 10 yards by Brian Baca.
The Yellow Jackets visit top-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (5-0, 4-0), the defending NCAA Division III national champion, at 1 p.m. Saturday. UMHB picked up a 17-7 road victory over No. 5 Hardin-Simmons Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity to see what a national championship program looks like up close and personal,” Harris said. “This is about our kids getting better and our kids getting another five days to practice and then going out and responding.”