Bulletin Staff Report

TYLER — Howard Payne fought back from a 20-7 deficit to force overtime, but Nolan Williams hit Curtis Shaw on a 25-yard touchdown pass and the Texas College Steers outlasted the Yellow Jackets 33-27 in a non-conference match-up Saturday.

The senior wide receiver from Atlanta proved to be the Steers’ biggest weapon. Williams also returned kickoffs of 94 and 88 yards for touchdowns, in addition to kicking three points-after.

“He did so many things, two kickoff returns for touchdowns and then he threw the touchdown pass,” Yellow Jackets coach Mike Redwine said. “Our plan was to kick off to the left, and the times we did that we had it covered. But we kept leaving it in the middle of the field, and they just made us pay.”

Williams’ heroics stole some thunder — as well as the game — from an HPU offense that seems to be jelling with 344 total yards, including 241 yards in the air. Quarterback Johnathan Haddock completed 22 of 38 passes, with one interception. After falling behind twice, the Jackets rallied twice to tie the game 27-27 with a field goal as time expired in regulation.

“The offense started generating some things,” Redwine said. “The defense had a good outing. And even in our kicking game, we saw some things improve.”

HPU’s Cody McKenzie, who rushed for two touchdowns, led all rushers with 66 yards on 16 carries. Haddock added 29 yards on eight carries. Justin Havard and Nice Sellers each had 57 yards receiving, with four and three catches respectively, while Zach Howard had five receptions for 25 yards.

The Yellow Jackets scored first on a 19-yard pass from Haddock to Sellers, and Jordan Bullard’s kick made it 7-0 with 3:35 left in the first. But Texas College quarterback X’Zavier Bloodsaw passed 39 yards to Shaw with 8:06 left in the half, and Bloodsaw carried the final five yards with 4:39 left to give the Steers a 13-7 half-time lead. Williams missed the kick on the second score. The second Steer touchdown was set up by an interception at the HPU 40.

The Yellow Jackets fell further behind when Williams returned the third quarter’s opening kickoff 94 yards and then kicked the extra point.

But HPU began its comeback by producing a seven-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard McKenzie run with 12:45 left in the quarter. Bullard’s kick narrowed the margin to 20-14.

The Yellow Jackets went ahead 21-20 with 6:57 left in the third after McKenzie capped a 10-play, 90-yard drive with a 4-yard run, and Bullard kicked the point-after.

HPU appeared to have some insurance points after the defense turned in a big play. Yellow Jacket Landon Dyer intercepted a Bloodsaw pass at the Steer 45, and Bullard nailed a 37-yard field goal with 6:22 left in the game to push the lead to 24-20.

Unfortunately, that meant the Yellow Jackets had to kick off again, and Williams returned it 88 yards — and kicked the extra-point — to put the Steers back up 27-24.

HPU used every second left in the game to move the ball 51 yards in 13 plays. After two Haddock passes fell incomplete, and Haddock gained only one yard on a run, the Yellow Jackets hurried its field goal team into position for the tying 3-pointer. The Jackets got the kick away just as time was expiring, but the officials ruled the Steers had called a time-out right before the gun sounded.

With no time showing on the scoreboard, Bullard kicked the tying 24-yard field goal to force overtime.

The Jackets won the toss and took the ball, but almost lost the game on an interception return by Bryan Williams, who was caught by Haddock at the HPU 35.

When Texas College lined up on the 25 for its turn in overtime, the Steers — whose offense hadn’t been on the field since just under 7 minutes were left in the game — called what appeared to be a reverse to Williams from his wide receiver position. But just before he reached the line of scrimmage, Williams pulled up and threw the winning 25-yard touchdown pass to Shaw.

“Our guys came out and competed here to the very end,” Redwine said. “I told them after the game, that’s what you judge people by, how you respond to adversity. We’ll have to get ready for Sul Ross next week now.”

The Jackets will host American Southwest Conference opponent Sul Ross at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Wood Stadium.