Bulletin Staff Report

WAXAHACHIE — The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets overcame three turnovers, a pair of botched punts and a 10-point first-quarter deficit to rally past the Southwestern Assemblies of God Lions for a 23-17 season-opening victory Saturday night at Lumpkins Stadium.

Howard Payne (1-0), which is coming off a 2-8 campaign in 2008, limited SAGU (0-2) to 174 yards of total offense. The stellar defensive effort allowed the Yellow Jackets to stay in the game after a horrible start.

The defense also saved the day as HPU’s 13-point fourth quarter lead was reduced to six points, and SAGU made a pair of trips inside Yellow Jacket territory in the final four minutes of the contest.

“It wasn’t pretty, but it is a win,” said Yellow Jackets second-year head coach Steve Fanara. “These guys are resilient and it was good to get this one under our belts. It’s been a long time.

“If we had done a little better with some things it wouldn’t have been close, but we were in a real dogfight and it was interesting until the end.”

Howard Payne amassed 362 yards of total offense, as quarterback Zach Hubbard completed 24-of-42 attempts for 323 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tre Mason finished with six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed for 29 yards. Edward Cody also grabbed six receptions for 23 yards the Yellow Jackets.

Walter Pam was the leading ground gainer for Howard Payne with 41 yards, followed by 39 from Brandon Young, Mason’s 29 and 19 from Hubbard. However, the Yellow Jackets finished with just 39 yards as a team due to 106 yards of lost yardage on botched snaps.

A pair of snaps sailed over HPU punter Cote Schacherl’s head and were recovered at the Yellow Jacket 7, which set up SAGU’s first two scores.

The first miscue resulted in a 22-yard field goal by SAGU’s Raymond Santibenez with 9:46 left in the first period, while the second mistake led to a 2-yard touchdown pass from Calvin Tolbert to Quentin Coleman that made the score 10-0 in favor of the Lions with 3:59 remaining in the quarter.

“The first quarter I thought Howard Payne beat Howard Payne,” Fanara said. “I didn’t expect two snaps over the punter’s head. That makes it tough on you, but my hat’s off to the defensive kids. We put them in bad situations several times early in this ball game, and they kept us in it until we were able to calm down a little bit and get those first game jitters out of the way.”

Howard Payne put its first points of the season on the board with 10 seconds left in the opening frame, as former Early Longhorn Mitchell Bailey booted the first of three field goals — a 39-yarder — to cut the deficit to 10-3.

Howard Payne drew even at 10-all with 10:11 left in the second period as Mason caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Hubbard, which preceded a 15-yard end around by Mason that gave Howard Payne a 17-10 lead with 3:44 left in the opening half.

Young returned the opening kick of the second half 88 yards to the SAGU 2, but HPU went backward and Bailey had a 36-yard field goal attempt blocked.

Bailey rebounded with boots of 26 yards, with 3:07 left in the third period, and 37 yards, with 6:59 left in the game, to stretch HPU’s lead to 23-10.

SAGU cut the deficit to 23-17 on a 20-yard David Howard catch with 4:35 remaining.

Howard Payne will host Bacone at 1 p.m. Saturday in the home opener.