Bulletin Staff Report
ABILENE - The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets overcame a disastrous first quarter to rally for a 45-33 American Southwest Conference victory over winless McMurry Saturday night, which snapped HPU’s three-game losing streak.
The Yellow Jackets (2-3, 1-2) found themselves down 12-0 just 7:48 into the contest, but responded with 38 points in the second and third periods en route to their most impressive offensive performance of the season.
Quarterback Zach Hubbard, who completed all 12 of his pass attempts for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first half, finished 21-of-31 for 337 yards with three TDs - all to Tre Mason.
Mason grabbed seven receptions totaling 152 yards, Edward Cody chipped in five catches for 80 yards and Zach McGuire added three receptions for 52 yards. McGuire was also HPU’s leading rushing with 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 12 carries.
As a team, Howard Payne - which doubled last season’s win total - finished with 452 yards of total offense, almost twice its season average of 230.3 yards per game. McMurry (0-6, 0-4) racked up 317 yards, led by Kennan Alford’s 108 yards rushing and two touchdowns, Blaine Moore’s 124 yards passing and Simeon Neal’s six receptions for 65 yards.
Trailing 33-24 with 4:15 left in the third period, the Yellow Jackets scored 14 points over the next 3:38 to grab the lead for good.
Following a Corbin Young kick return to the McMurry 48, Hubbard hooked up with McGuire on a 35-yard catch and run. Two plays later, Hubbard hit Mason on a 5-yard scoring toss to close the gap to 33-31 with 2:53 left in the third period.
McMurry’s ensuing possession ended with a 20-yard punt that allowed HPU to set up shop just across midfield at the 46. A 39-yard toss from Hubbard to Lane Wakefield set up Hubbard’s 1-yard TD run with 37 seconds left in the third, which gave the Yellow Jackets a 38-33 advantage.
Howard Payne then iced the victory on a 30-yard McGuire touchdown run with 1:58 remaining.
The finish was a far cry from the way the game started for the Yellow Jackets.
Howard Payne was brought down inside the 1 on the opening kickoff, and following a three-and-out, McMurry returned the punt to the Jacket 30.
McMurry needed just three plays to take the lead as Evan Hearn scored on a 2-yard run with 11:57 left in the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets’ second drive ended on the second snap when a fumble was recovered by McMurry’s Josh McKinnis at the HPU 30.
McMurry turned that miscue into a 10-0 lead as Josh Neaves converted a 30-yard field goal with 9:18 left in the first quarter.
Howard Payne’s third possession resulted in a safety as a reverse deep in Yellow Jacket territory ended with a Cody fumble that was kicked out of the end zone at the 7:12 mark of the opening stanza.
But the Yellow Jackets fought back and closed the gap to 19-17 by halftime.
Nathan Gilbert put HPU on the board with a 26-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 12-3 just 35 seconds into the second quarter. The four-play, 5-yard scoring drive began at the McMurry 13 after Conner Julian recorded an interception.
McGuire’s 8-yard TD run closed the gap to 12-10 at the 5:38 mark of the second period, culminating an eight-play, 70-yard trek. Hubbard completed a 38-yard pass to Mason to move the ball to the McMurry 23 during the drive.
McMurry answered with a 55-yard scoring sprint by Alford with 4:24 left in the half, which pushed the Yellow Jackets into a 19-10 hole.
The Yellow Jackets, however, crept back within two points as Hubbard connected with Mason on an 8-yard TD pass with 13 seconds left in the half.
Howard Payne then took its first lead, 24-19, at the 13:42 mark of the third period on a 41-yard strike from Hubbard to Mason. The one-play drive was set up by a fumble recovery by Demetrius Cody - who also intercepted a pass - on McMurry’s third snap of the second half.
McMurry answered with 14 quick points to regain a 33-24 lead on a 2-yard Hearn plunge and a 25-yard Alford scamper.
The Yellow Jackets will host No. 16 Hardin-Simmons (5-1, 3-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday.