MARSHALL — The Howard Payne offense showed signs of improvement, but the defense was unable to corral the East Texas Baptist Tigers, who handed the Yellow Jackets a 54-28 American Southwest Conference loss Saturday night.

The Yellow Jackets (1-4, 1-3) produced their second-highest point total of the season and generated 396 total yards — 279 through the air and 117 on the ground — with one just turnover. 

Defensively, Howard Payne created three turnovers — all fumble recoveries — but ETBU (3-2, 3-1) still compiled 676 total yards behind a balanced attack of 366 yards through the air and 310 on the ground.

HPU quarterback Gage McClanahan completed 23 of 38 passes for 279 yards with one pick, while DunTayviun Gross caught eight passes for 71 yards, Tariq Gray added five grabs for 70 yards and Thomas Williams hauled in a 62-yard reception. On the ground, Kaidrion Latson amassed 78 yards, Brett Martinez added 57 and Benjamin Greene rushed for a pair of scores. 

Brian Baca was 14 of 26 for 314 yards with four touchdown passes for ETBU, while rushing for 78 yards and two scores. Justin Ward rushed for 104 yards and Dominic Haggerty chipped in 99 yards and a touchdown, while Richard Johnson caught a team-best four passes for 87 yards with a trip to the end zone.

Defensively for HPU, Britt Boler led the way with 11 tackles followed by Austin Killgore with seven and a host of Yellow Jackets with four takedowns. Anthony Lindsey recovered two fumbles for Howard Payne while Connor Day pounced on a the third. 

ETBU scored its first three touchdowns in just under 8 ½ minutes to seize control early. Haggerty rushed for a 50-yard touchdown just 61 seconds into the contest, then Baca hooked up Gavin Raines on a 78-yard scoring toss with 9:23 left in the quarter. Baca later scored on a 6-yard carry at the 6:31 mark of the period to stake ETBU to a 21-0 advantage.

Howard Payne closed the gap to 21-7 with 21 seconds left in the period quarter as quarterback Gage McClanahan scored on a 7-yard keeper to cap an eight-play, 44-yard trek. 

ETBU extended its lead back to three touchdowns, 28-7, on a 25-yard scoring toss from Baca to Tarek Beaugard at 11:46 of the second quarter.

The Yellow Jackets fired back with a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run from Greene with 5:04 to go before halftime, trimming the deficit to 28-14.

The Tigers were able to tack on one more touchdown before the break as, with 24 seconds left in the second period, Baca connected with Kane Johnson on a 42-yard scoring toss.

Down 35-14 to start the second half, the Yellow Jackets responded with Greene’s second scoring run from 1 yard out to creep within 35-21 at the 11:14 mark of the third. The drive covered 32 yards in five plays.

Just 66 seconds later, however, ETBU was back in the end zone on an 18-yard scoring toss from Baca to Richard Johnson, as the lead stood at 42-21 at the 10:08 mark.

HPU’s last points of the night came with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Kaidrion Latson, which closed the gap to 42-28. Howard Payne traveled 71 yards in 12 plays before reaching the end zone.

ETBU tacked on two more scores before the game concluded, a 21-yard run by Jeremiah Robertson with 3:17 left in the third and a 1-yard dive by Baca 15 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Next week, the Yellow Jackets host No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (5-0, 4-0), which defeated No. 6 Hardin-Simmons Saturday night, in a 1 p.m. contest at Gordon Wood Stadium.