The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets kicked off their second season under head coach Braxton Harris last weekend with a 35-3 loss at George Fox University in Oregon in a game that was closer than the score would indicate. But that game is in the past as the Yellow Jackets turn their attention to American Southwest Conference action Saturday night.
Seeking their first home victory since Halloween 2015, the Yellow Jackets (0-1) welcome the McMurry War Hawks (0-1, 0-2) to Gordon Wood Stadium for a 7 p.m. Saturday ASC encounter.
“This is a huge ball game for us, no question about it,” said Harris, whose squad posted a 1-9 record last year. “We view this is as a cross roads for program. This is an opportunity to show the direction we’re going. Make no bones about it, we understand this is a very pivotal game in our program’s history and we want to make sure we come out and are able to do what is needed to be able to be 1-0 in conference. That would be huge for our program and huge for our confidence. It’s a very big opportunity for us and we view it as such.”
Looking back on last week’s contest, the HPU defense allowed 28 points and 372 yards to George Fox, well under the 2017 averages for points and yards yielded per game. Britt Boler recorded 11 tackles with one for loss, Austin Kilgore added 10, Anthony Lindsey notched eight with a sack, Brady Wade also tallied eight takedowns and Collin Wright finished with seven.
“I was very pleased with the effort at times on defense,” Harris said. “We gave up 372 yards total offense and 74 of those were on one play. You blow a blitz and you get beat, that’s college football, but you take that away and we hold them to about 300 yards of offense and that’s not a bad day at the office. What I’d to see us do is be able to improve on that and continue to play more consistently.”
Offensively, the Yellow Jackets produced just 134 yards — 107 through the air and 27 on the ground — with four turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown. Quarterback Gage McClanahan completed 15 of 26 passes for 107 yards with four picks. DunTay Gross caught a team-high five passes for 44 yards while Jordan Bryant grabbed four receptions covering 24 yards. Also hauling in receptions were Thomas Williams (25 yards), Brett Martinez (7 yards), Eric Haverstock (6 yards), Tariq Gray (1 yard), Benjamin Greene, and Kaidiron Latson (-1 yard). Martinez led the HPU rushing attack with just 16 yards
“We struggled in some places,” Harris said. “Obviously we can’t turn the ball over. In any situation we have to able to hold on to the football. What that allowed us to do is come back this week and show on film some opportunities where we don’t have to try and get 21 points back in one play. We have to be able to run the football and that was an issue that we had on Saturday. We weren’t able to run the football and move people off the line of scrimmage. We’re going to improve on that this week.”
As for the experience as a whole, Harris said, “It was a good week and a good trip. We were very fortunate to be able to provide that opportunity for our kids to be able to get on a plane and fly and go play somebody in Oregon. George Fox is a first class program. They’ve built their program the right way, they’re committed to football and that’s evident in everything they do at their university. It was a first class experience for our kids. This trip enabled us to see what we want to become.”
Looking ahead to McMurry, the War Hawks are coming off losses of 37-6 to Southwestern in their ASC opener last week, and 44-6 to Trinity. McMurry averages 3 points and 237 yards — 153 passing and 84 rushing — per game with three turnovers, while allowing 40.5 points and 541 yards — 319 on the ground and 222 through the air — with no takeaways.
Quarterback Kevin Hurley has completed 23 of 48 passes for 296 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while rushing for 53 yards. Xavier Anderson is 2 of 10 for 10 yards. Doyle Hughes leads the ground game with 92 yards, while top receivers are Eriel Dorsey (10-144), Trevion Harris (3-78, TD), Tanner Clark (4-19) and Spencer Cox (1-23).
“They’re changing quarterbacks according to what they have on their depth chart, so seeing a new quarterback coming here we have to be ready for him,” Harris said. “Our defense has to be able to eliminate the run and then be able to control the passing game. Dorsey is a senior, a transfer from Louisiana Tech, and he’s a dynamic receiver that they try to get the ball to a lot of different ways — kick returns, punt returns and at receiver. We have to limit his touches and yards after the catch.”
The defense is anchored by Josh Smith (24 tackles, 3 for loss), Xavier Dunn (14 tackles, 1.5 for loss) and Rae Anderson (11 tackles, 1 for loss).
“Defensively, they move around and show you a lot of different fronts and bring pressure from different areas,” Harris said. “We have to be able to move the football, move it on the ground, and win the line of scrimmage.
“Special teams also has to play a factor in the ball game. We did some good things in our kickoff return last week and we have to continue to expound on those things. We have to have some explosive plays in our kicking game.”