Minutes away from their first back-to-back home victories since 2010, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets were unable to hold a late five-point lead as a 90-yard touchdown drive culminated with 20 seconds remaining to give the Belhaven Blazers a 20-19 American Southwest Conference victory Saturday afternoon at Gordon Wood Stadium.
The 11-play, 3:40 drive for Belhaven (1-3, 1-2), which trailed 19-14 when the possession began, concluded on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Hunter McEachern to Joey Walden. Howard Payne (1-3, 1-2) blocked the extra point and a return would have pushed the Yellow Jackets back in front, but Belhaven made the game-saving tackle near the HPU 35.
A special teams play put the Yellow Jackets in front with 8:27 left as, trailing Belhaven 14-13, Connor Day blocked a Belhaven punt that Isaiah Smith scooped up and returned 40 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. But Howard Payne came up short on a two-point try that would have made the score 21-14.
The Yellow Jackets also had an extra point blocked after their second touchdown and missed a 37-yard field goal in the first period — two more examples of how a potential victory slipped the HPU’s grasp.
Howard Payne generated just 179 yards of total offense – and a mere 42 rushing yards on 25 carries — while coughing up the ball three times on interceptions. Belhaven, meanwhile, tallied 304 yards — 196 passing and 108 rushing — with just one turnover.
HPU quarterback Gage McClanahan completed 12 of 25 passes for 137 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and three picks. DunTayviun Gross caught both scoring tosses and finished with seven receptions for 78 yards. Jordan Bryant grabbed three receptions for 45 yards while Thomas Williams and Kaidrion Latson each hauled in a 7-yard reception.
On the ground, Latson rushed for 25 yards on 10 carries while Brett Martinez chipped in 17 yards on nine rushes.
Defensively for HPU, Austin Kilgore again led the way with 13 tackles, including one for loss, with a sack and a forced fumble. Britt Boler added eight tackles and a sack while Collin Wright got to the quarterback twice. Elijah Washington added five tackles and recovered a fumble.
McEachern connected on 12 of 24 passes for 168 yards and two scores for Belhaven, while Ben Owens was 5 of 5 for 28 yards when McEachern briefly left the game due to injury. Noah Nix rushed for a game-high 79 yards and a touchdown for the Blazers and caught a team-high five passes for 37 yards. Fabien Williams added four grabs for 66 yards and a score, while Walden caught three passes for 55 yards, including the game-winner.
Howard Payne jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first period as Gross caught a fourth-and-6 pass from McClanahan for a 21-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play, 53-yard march at the 2:23 mark.
Belhaven answered at 8:57 of the second quarter on a 4-yard run by Nix, the final play of a seven-snap, 56-yard journey that knotted the score at 7.
The Blazers moved in front less than three minutes later on a 22-yard scoring toss from McEachern to Williams, as HPU faced a 14-7 deficit with 6:15 left in the half.
Howard Payne closed the gap to 14-13 with 1:53 to go in the second period as Gross caught his second touchdown from McClanahan, a 30-yarder that ended a quick four-play, 37-yard possession.
The Yellow Jackets are back in action at 6 p.m. Saturday at East Texas Baptist (2-1-, 2-0), which visited Hardin-Simmons Saturday.