After snapping a three-game losing streak, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets are seeking their first back-to-back victories since the eighth and ninth games of the 2006 campaign. Standing in the way of the Yellow Jackets (2-3, 1-2) are the No. 16 Hardin-Simmons Cowboys (5-1, 3-1), the only team Howard Payne defeated a season ago.
Kickoff for the renewal of this long-standing American Southwest Conference rivalry, which Hardin-Simmons leads 31-25, is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Wood Stadium.
Despite the outcome of last year’s contest, HPU first-year head coach Steve Fanara doesn’t expect Hardin-Simmons to view Saturday’s tilt as a revenge game.
“They’re going to play their same caliber of football and not take us lightly if we’re 2-3 or 5-0,” Fanara said. “We’re the only conference team other than Mary Hardin-Baylor to beat them since 2006, but they’re not necessarily looking for revenge, just to win another ball game. A lot of that stuff is overrated. They’re going to approach us like every other game. They’re a well-coached team and they’re going to be ready, but it won’t be anything extra because of last year. We do have that distinction of being one of the only conference teams to get a win against them, we just have to be able to do that on a regular basis.”
Howard Payne is coming off a 45-33 victory over winless McMurry, a game in which the Yellow Jackets overcame both a 12-point deficit to start the game, and a nine-point hole in the second half. The Jackets’ 45-point total was the most they have scored since last year’s 48-47 overtime win at Hardin-Simmons. HPU’s 452 yards of total offense also was a season-high.
The Yellow Jackets were sparked by a 337-yard, three-touchdown performance from quarterback Zach Hubbard, who also rushed for a score. Tre Mason earned ASC offensive player of the week honors for his seven-catch, 152-yard, three-touchdown effort, while Zach McGuire added 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground.
“I want to give credit to our offensive staff for their game plan and sticking with it and not abandoning it when we were down by 12 last week,” Fanara said. “They also did a good job making some adjustments, particularly in the last quarter when we were able to run the ball.
“Zach had a good, solid performance, was physical and finished his runs. He was able to seal the deal and he got some great help, too, blocking-wise. Tre is a guy that has been emerging as a playmaker. He’s a kid that you can throw the ball up to and if you put it anywhere in the vicinity, he finds a way to catch it.”
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets yielded the most points (33) they have all season against a McMurry team that entered last week’s contest averaging less than 10 points per game.
“We have to tackle better,” Fanara said. “We’re getting people to the ball and we’ve tackled well the majority of the season, but this week it’s going to be real important that we’re not giving them yards after contact. We can’t let them turn a 3-yard play into a 20-yard play.”
The Yellow Jacket defense, which allows 20.8 points and 297 yards of total offense per game, is led by Kevin Reyna (42 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Aaron Alvarado (30 tackles, interception), Ronald Wright (28 tackles), Dustin McClure (28 tackles, five sacks) and ASC defensive player of the week Demetrius Cody (28 tackles, eight for loss, 2.5 sacks, interception, fumble recovery).
“Demetrius, stat-wise, did a little bit of everything last week,” Fanara said. “He intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and recovered it, had 1.5 sacks and some pass break ups. That’s the kind of mobility we really need in this defense and that’s what he brings to the table.”
Hardin-Simmons carries an impressive resumé into Saturday’s game with its only loss coming at the hands of No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor, 20-18. The Cowboys’ victims include Wisconsin-Lacrosse (24-23), No. 25 Linfield (29-22), Louisiana College (36-28), Mississippi College (35-27) and East Texas Baptist (40-12).
“They’ve played good football teams, but the first five games of the year the margin of victory has been eight points or less, so they’ve been in a lot of tight ball games,” Fanara said. “ETBU last week was the first game with that big of a spread, which means they’re probably playing some their best football right now.”
The Cowboy offense averages 30.3 points and 426.8 yards of total offense - 134 rushing and 292.8 passing - per game. Hardin-Simmons is led by quarterback Justin Feaster (134-of-203, 1,673 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions), running backs Josh Stephens (72-351, 3 TDs) and Derrick Grant (50-298, 2 TDs) and receivers Mychal Carrillo (49-540, 5 TDs; 673 all-purpose yards) and ZaVarious Robbins (27-443, 5 TDs; 656 all-purpose yards).
“Feaster and Carrillo are the two that really make their offense go. We’re going to have to corral those two guys,” Fanara said. “Carillo, if you look at his stats, can do a little bit of everything. He can take a bubble (screen) and go 70 yards. Justin is a phenomenal quarterback. He’s taken control of the offense in his second year and he’s doing some special things and making plays. We’re going to have to contain his running as well as finding different ways to get pressure on him.”
Defensively, the Cowboys - led by Matt Warnasch (72 tackles) and Michael Tracy (50 tackles, two interceptions) - give up 22 points and 364 total yards - including 209.7 rushing - per game.
“We’re going to have to establish a run game,” Fanara said. “Their secondary is good, they play the pass well, so we’re going to have to do some things in the run game to set up some play action to keep them off balanced. If we’re predictable, it will be to their advantage.”
Hardin-Simmons has forced 16 turnovers, while giving the ball away just six times. Howard Payne, conversely, has lost the ball 16 times and gained it 12.
“We’re getting better about turning the ball over, but those turnovers cost us points last week,” Fanara said. “The pattern we’re in right now of giving up some easy points, there’s going to be no room for that. We have to eliminate the mistakes in the first quarter that have allowed teams to get a spread on us. That’s going to be the key.”