The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets put forth their most dominant effort in several seasons, crushing the Bacone Warriors, 56-7, in Saturday’s home opener at Gordon Wood Stadium.
The victory avenged last year’s 13-6 defeat in Muskogee, Okla., and marked the first time since the eighth and ninth games of the 2006 campaign that Howard Payne (2-0) has reeled off consecutive wins. The Yellow Jackets began that ’06 season with three consecutive victories — a feat they can match when Sul Ross visits in the American Southwest Conference opener next weekend.
“We weren’t concerned that it’d been 2006 since we put a win streak together, we’re just looking at the one ahead of us every week,” said HPU second-year head coach Steve Fanara. “We can’t afford to do it any other way. This just helps to get these guys’ confidence up. I’m awful proud of these guys and our coaching staff, offense and defense.”
The Jackets scored their most points in a game since putting up 56 in a four-point loss at Sul Ross in 2006. The last time Howard Payne chalked up 56 points and won was in 2005 when it drilled Louisiana College by 43 points.
Howard Payne finished with 449 yards of total offense and, more importantly, scored on all five of its trips to the red zone.
“I felt like this might be a breakout game for our offense, and our guys needed that confidence offensively,” Fanara said. “A lot of guys contributed today, and that’s the way it should be. My hat’s off to the offensive kids and the staff. I can’t say enough about them.”
Quarterback Zach Hubbard completed 18-of-22 passes for 302 yards with four touchdowns and no turnovers. Corbin Young caught five passes for 57 yards, Edward Cody added four receptions for 58 yards with a touchdown, Justin Havard chipped in three catches for 27 yards and a score and Trevor Kleine finished with two receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. ASC Offensive Player of the Week Tre Mason was limited to one catch for 12 yards.
“They didn’t blitz us as much as you might expect out of a 3-3-5 defense,” Fanara said. “Our offensive line has really settled in, plus they didn’t bring a lot of pressure, so Zach was able to settle in early and make some good decisions today.
“I was also proud of Zach for not looking for just Tre. They had some matchups against Tre that were in their favor, but Zach read the things that we practiced and delivered the ball. That showed growth and maturity on Zach’s part.”
On the defensive end, the Yellow Jackets gave up just 41 yards on the ground and 219 yards overall — with only 54 coming in the second half — and turned back Bacone on three of four trips to the red zone. HPU also recorded four sacks.
Bacone (0-2) quarterback Shawn Walls completed 18-of-31 passes for 172 yards, with Stanley Johnson grabbing eight receptions totaling 82 yards. Jacob Elyassin topped all Warrior rushers with 38 yards.
Kevin Reyna led Howard Payne in tackles for the second straight week with 10, followed by nine from Aaron Martin, seven from Joey Lewis and six from Jordan Pfenenger. Zach Dauer recorded a pair of interceptions and scored once, while Lewis also picked off a pass.
“I’m a defensive coach, so you’re always excited when you see a defensive score. It’s a feeling like no other,” Fanara said “When you score defensively and in the special teams, you can win a lot of games.
“They had some big boys up front, and I was impressed by their freshman quarterback and the way he was able to break the pocket. We got tired early, they had a long 13-play drive in the first quarter, but we were able to get some guys some rest and settle down.”
Leading in total yardage just 219 to 165 at halftime, the Yellow Jackets owned a commanding 28-0 lead. Howard Payne scored on its first three possessions, while Bacone made four trips deep into Yellow Jacket territory that resulted in two missed field goals, a punt into the end zone and an interception return for an HPU touchdown.
Bacone’s first drive reached the Howard Payne 18 before penalties and a sack by Allen Dixon backed up the Warriors, who eventually punted.
The Jackets needed just three offensive plays to light up the scoreboard as Brandon Young took a screen pass from Hubbard and scampered 79 yards down the sideline to the end zone for the first HPU points. Mitchell Bailey converted the extra point to stake Howard Payne to a 7-0 lead at the 10:55 juncture.
The Warriors marched to the Howard Payne 5 on their next drive, taking 12 plays and chewing 5:55 off the clock to travel 55 yards, but Brandon Howley hooked a 22-yard field goal attempt.
Howard Payne responded with a 80-yard, 12-play trek that resulted in Walter Pam scoring on a 1-yard dive for a 14-0 edge with 12:56 left in the opening half. Pam and Brandon Young each finished with 27 of the Jackets’ 87 team rushing yards.
The Yellow Jackets started their third drive on their own 42 and covered 58 yards in six plays before Hubbard hooked up with Trevor Kleine on a 10-yard scoring toss for a 21-0 lead at the 7:10 mark of the second period.
Bacone’s troubles continued on its next two drives as the Warriors advanced to the HPU 20 before Howley missed a 37-yard field goal try. Then, after an HPU three-and-out, the Warriors marched to the Yellow Jacket 42 before Dauer picked off a Wells offering and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown with just 25 seconds remaining in the first half.
“We knew we wanted to come out of the locker room and get things started early, but even at halftime I had an uneasy and restless feeling. I told the team that they should feel the same way,” said Fanara, whose team led by four touchdowns at the break. “I wanted us to come out and bury this thing at the start of the second half and put this game away. We were able to do that.”
Howard Payne didn’t let off the gas in the second half as Corbin Young returned the opening kick 77 yards, which set up a 31-yard touchdown pass from Hubbard to Cody 46 seconds into the second half as the lead swelled to 35-0.
Bacone’s first possession of the second half lasted just two plays as Lewis intercepted a Wells shovel pass attempt and returned the ball to the Warrior 26. Five plays later, Lance Dickey scored on a 2-yard dive to stretch the lead to 42-0 at the 12:22 mark of the third quarter.
The Warriors finally got on the board after taking advantage of a Howard Payne fumble at the Jacket 11. Walls connected with Roman Nelson on an 11-yard toss to cut the deficit to 42-7 with 8:49 left in the third period.
Howard Payne tacked on two more touchdowns in the fourth period as Hubbard found Havard on a 7-yard scoring toss on the first snap of the quarter to increase the lead to 49-7.
Dickey, who finished with 24 yards rushing, then scored his second touchdown on a 3-yard run with 2:21 left, capping a three-play 59-yard drive that was highlighted by a 56-yard Kleine catch and run.
HPU and Sul Ross will square off in the Jackets’ conference opener at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Wood Stadium.
“We’re going to be facing a Sul Ross team that has changed offensively and is running the triple option and flex bone,” Fanara said. “We’re going to have our hands full trying to get ready for something like that, something you don’t see every day. We haven’t done well against them in Alpine, so we’re excited to have them at Gordon Wood.”