The Sul Ross Lobos continue to be a thorn in the side of the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets football program.
Entering American Southwest Conference action with their first winning streak since 2006, the Yellow Jackets were denied their first 3-0 start since that same season as the previously winless Lobos notched a 31-14 victory at Gordon Wood Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“We got whipped today,” said HPU second-year head coach Steve Fanara. “Sul Ross came out and played a really good ball game. We’ve got a long season ahead of us and a lot of time to get this thing turned around, but this is not the conference start we expected.”
A Howard Payne (2-1, 0-1) defense that was allowing just 12 points and 165.5 total yards per game — including a mere 37 on the ground — surrendered 416 yards to Sul Ross (1-3, 1-1), which ran for 248 yards on 57 carries.
Offensively, Howard Payne entered the ASC opener averaging 39.5 points and 374.5 yards per outing, but did not score until the second half and finished with just 280 yards of total offense against a Lobo defense that had been giving up 480 yards and 37 points per game.
“Our execution a week ago (in a 56-7 home win over Bacone) compared to our execution today, it was definitely a setback for us,” Fanara said.
Sul Ross — which has won four straight over the Yellow Jackets, including last season’s 17-0 victory in Alpine in HPU’s conference opener — racked up the first 28 points Saturday, including 14 before the Yellow Jacket offense ever stepped on the field.
The Lobos took the opening drive 59 yards in seven plays as Laurence Smith scored on a 43-yard run with 12:02 left in the opening period to stake Sul Ross to a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Yellow Jackets mishandled the ball at their own 5 and the pigskin squirted into the end zone where Sul Ross recovered for a 14-0 lead just 3:03 into the contest.
“It was a bad start, and misplaying that kick didn’t help,” Fanara said. “Sometimes you are able to overcome those things, but today we weren’t able to overcome that.”
Howard Payne attempted to answer the Lobos’ quick scores on its second possession as the Yellow Jackets moved 61 yards to the Sul Ross 17 on a 12-play drive, but a 36-yard Mitchell Bailey field goal try sailed wide.
Two drives later, the Yellow Jackets took over on the Sul Ross 39 following a 35-yard punt, but Howard Payne’s march stalled at the Lobo 26 when the Jackets failed to convert a fourth-and-11 pass play.
The Jackets also invaded Sul Ross territory the next time they got the ball, reaching the Lobo 22 before a pair of penalties pushed Howard Payne back to the 39, which resulted in a Cote Schacherl punt with 9:35 left in the half.
Unable to cut into Sul Ross’ lead on three deep marches, the Yellow Jackets then witnessed the Lobos journey 51 yards in eight plays before quarterback Dominique Carson — who rushed for 107 yards, passed for 168 yards and accounted for two touchdowns — scored on a 3-yard run with 10 seconds left before halftime.
Sul Ross took a 21-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, and needed just three plays to stretch the advantage to 28-0 in the second half. After Howard Payne failed to gain a first down on its first possession, Sul Ross scored at the 12:06 mark of the third quarter on a 76-yard pass from Carson to Rod Jefferson, who led the Lobos with four receptions for 143 yards.
Facing a four-touchdown deficit, the Howard Payne offense finally showed signs of life on its second possession of the second half. The Jackets moved 71 yards in 10 plays before Walter Pam — who rushed for 11 of Howard Payne’s 70 yards on the ground — scored on a 1-yard plunge to trim the deficit to 28-7 with 9:11 left in third period.
The key play of the scoring drive was a 30-yard toss from Zach Hubbard — who completed 23-of-46 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown — to Tre Mason, the Jackets’ leading receiver Saturday with five catches for 52 yards, which moved the ball to the Lobo 28.
Howard Payne again found the end zone before the third period ended thanks to a 44-yard scoring drive that started when Zach Dauer recovered a Sul Ross fumble with 5:40 to go in the quarter.
The Jackets’ four-play trek ended with a 13-yard scoring strike from Hubbard to Trevor Kleine, which cut Sul Ross’ lead to 28-14 with 4:55 left in the third period.
Howard Payne appeared poised to get the ball back quickly during Sul Ross’ next possession, but a roughing the punter penalty allowed the Lobos to continue their march.
“We had called a hold up on our punt return, we were wanting to stay away from the kicker, but if you come across the line and no one’s blocking you it’s tempting to go after that kick,” Fanara said. “The kids were just trying to make plays, but we have to learn from those mistakes.”
Extended due to the penalty, the Lobo drive eventually ended after 17 snaps and 10:24 had been chewed off the clock. Mike Van Wagner drilled a 20-yard field goal with just 9:01 left to put the Yellow Jackets behind by three scores, 31-14. HPU was unable to answer the final Sul Ross points.
“We had the one surge there where I felt like the momentum was turning, but we didn’t get it all the way back,” Fanara said. “Against a team that is running the ball the way they were, the time of possession becomes a factor, especially when you are behind like we were.”
The Yellow Jackets had the ball for just 22:40, compared to Sul Ross which owned possession for 37:20.
HPU will attempt to rebound next week as it visits Texas Lutheran at 2 p.m