Seeking their first back-to-back home wins since 2010, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets welcome the American Southwest Conference rival Belhaven Blazers to Gordon Wood Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Howard Payne last pulled off consecutive home wins on Sept. 11 and Sept. 25 of the 2010 campaign, knocking off Southwestern Assemblies of God, 32-7, and Texas Lutheran, 39-17, for their only victories of the season.
“Getting to 2-2 and 2-1 in conference would be huge for us in our process of being able to move forward,” said HPU second-year head coach Braxton Harris. “I think it will show our kids the work they put in and the things they’ve committed to are the right things to commit to, and I think they know that regardless of the outcome, but it’s always good for them to see those opportunities and moments. We have to be able to progress so that when we get opportunities to win football games we go win them.”
The Yellow Jackets (1-2, 1-1) picked up a 45-37 victory at Belhaven (0-3, 0-2) for their only win in 2017, but Harris doesn’t expect last year’s result to create overconfidence with this year’s squad.
“You’re talking about 18, 19, 20 year old kids and I don’t know that they remember what a year ago looked like,” Harris said. “I hope they’re confident because of the preparation they’ve put in, not a result that happened a year ago. We’re a different football team than we were a year ago and so are they. The preparation is what we ought to have confidence in, not necessarily the outcome of a year ago.”
Belhaven has opened the season with losses to Millsaps (18-3), Texas Lutheran (23-0) and East Texas Baptist (46-20).
“Belhaven is very much in a place like we were last year, looking for their first win with their first road trip coming up,” Harris said. “A new coaching staff came in so they’re trying to build a program and do things the right way. They’ve changed schemes up and have gone from an air raid offense to a power I. But this is an opportunity for us to continue our process and go win a football game.”
The Blazers enter the contest averaging 7 points and 234 yards — 135 passing and 99 rushing — per game, with eight turnovers.
Brad Foley has rushed for 241 yards of the team’s 297 yards on the ground, while quarterback Hunter McEachern owns the lone rushing touchdown. McEachern has also completed 39 of 88 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Foley leads the Blazers with 12 catches for 68 yards, while Joey Walden has hauled in 11 receptions for 215 yards and two scores. No other player on the Belhaven roster has more than 37 receiving yards.
Defensively, the Blazers are allowing 29 points and 394 yards — 219 through the air and 175 on the ground.
Standouts include David Lewis (21 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack), DeNarrius Noel (21 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 1 FR), Phazion Locke (15 tackles) and Justin Percy (11 tackles, 1 sack).
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 65-14 loss at No. 6 Hardin-Simmons, a game in which HPU surrendering five touchdowns in the second quarter alone as the Cowboys amassed 803 yards of total offense.
“Hardin-Simmons is an elite program in this nation, not just the conference, and they proved that this past Saturday,” Harris said. “They’re committed to athletics and committed to football as a university and you’re seeing the results of that year in and year out. That’s what we want to strive to be able to be.
“I’ve coached against Hardin-Simmons a few times and I thought that was one of their better teams. Their running back is a grown man and played really well. They’re a typical Hardin-Simmons team that plays hard and plays physical.
The Yellow Jackets head into Saturday’s game averaging 18 points and 259 yards — 193 passing and 66 rushing — per game, with six turnovers.
Gage McClanahan has completed 43 of 82 passes for 579 yards with five touchdowns and five picks and has the Yellow Jackets’ only rushing touchdown. Leading receivers include Jordan Bryant (13-170, 2 TDs), DunTayviun Gross (11-152, TD), Thomas Williams (7-130, 2 TDs) and Tariq Gray (4-64). Top rushers include Kaidrion Latson (168 yards) and Brett Martinez (66 yards).
“Offensively we have to be able to continue to run the football,” Harris said. “I’d like to see us knock some people off the football and establish our physical run game. We’re doing some different things with some different people in different places to able to get some guys running the football. Being able to establish that running game is going to open up the passing game. I’d also like to see more consistency throughout the football game on the offensive side of the ball. We don’t want any three and outs, we want to be able to move the chains and play the field position game.”
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets are surrendering 44 points and 537 yards — 289 passing and 248 rushing — with five takeaways.
Leading tacklers are Austin Kilgore (34 tackles, 2 for loss), Tevin Dawson (23 tackles), Britt Boler (22 tackles, 3.5 for loss), Collin Wright (18 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks) and Elijah Washington (16 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT).
“Defensively, we have to do a better job of stopping the run,” Harris said. “We gave up way too many yards last week. Then you couple that with explosive plays allowed and that’s not very good defense. We have to come out and show on the defensive side of the ball that we can play physical, that we can run to the football and that we can tackle.”