Try as they may, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets can’t catch enough breaks to end their drought.
The Yellow Jackets’ losing streak reached four games Saturday afternoon as Howard Payne suffered its second overtime loss in as many weeks, this time falling to American Southwest Conference rival Sul Ross, 34-31, in two extra sessions.
State and national media flocked to Gordon Wood Stadium to witness the season debut of Sul Ross 59-year-old linebacker Mike Flynt — which would have set a record for the oldest player to ever participate in an NCAA football game — but Flynt was kept out of the game. The media and the rest of the onlookers were instead treated to another epic confrontation which rivaled last season’s 60-56 Lobos win in Alpine.
“It’s been a pretty entertaining series the three years I’ve been here,” said HPU head coach Mike Redwine. “We won a pretty close one two years ago, last year was a real crazy game and then this one.”
Lobo Mike Van Wagner converted his second field goal — a 28-yarder — to start the second overtime, while the Sul Ross (3-2, 1-2) defense held the Yellow Jackets off the scoreboard on both of their offensive possessions in overtime.
Howard Payne’s final drive of the day featured a rush for no gain and two incompletions before Horace Paine’s 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Zach Gideon to seal the victory for Sul Ross.
The Yellow Jackets’ first possession in overtime ended when Dominique Jones picked off HPU quarterback Jonathan Haddock. Sul Ross then took over at the HPU 25, but lost six yards which forced Van Wagner to attempt a 48-yard field goal, which he missed.
“We turned the ball over twice in the red zone earlier and if you look at the two overtime possessions inside the 25, those were opportunities and we just have to do a better job than we did,” Redwine said. “In a game like today’s every point matters.” Van Wagner’s 36-yard field goal pulled Sul Ross even at 31-all after Howard Payne had rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and grabbed a 31-28 lead. The Lobos moved 40 yards in eight plays to set up the tying kick.
Trailing 28-17 with 11:31 left in the game, Edward Cody ignited the Howard Payne rally by returning a punt 51 yards to the Sul Ross 16.
“I thought we were extremely sound in our special teams play today,” Redwine said. “Edward Cody is a real delight to watch and he did a good job with his returns today. He’s from Killeen and went to school in Nebraska, but wanted to be close to home so his family could watch him. We’re real fortunate to have him be a part of our ball club.”
Following a pass interference penalty on first down, Zach McGuire scored on a 4-yard run as the Yellow Jackets cut the deficit to 28-23. Opting for the two-point conversion with 9:01 left in the game, the Yellow Jackets were turned back by the Sul Ross defense.
Howard Payne missed a golden opportunity to claim the lead with just under six minutes left as Sul Ross’ Jamal Johnson fumbled a punt at the Lobo 10. But the Yellow Jackets turned around and coughed the ball up on their first play as Fernie Acosta pounced on a McGuire fumble on the Sul Ross 8.
The Yellow Jackets defense forced a three-and-out, however, and the offense took over at the Sul Ross 27 following a personal foul after the Lobos’ punt.
Haddock went to the air on first down and found Jordan Beard for 27 yards and their second touchdown connection of the day. Zach Howard ran in the two-point conversion as Howard Payne led 31-28 with 4:25 left.
Howard Payne also owned a 10-7 halftime lead, scoring on a 63-yard pass from Haddock to Genoa Dill in the first period, and a 34-yard Jordan Bullard field goal with 1:08 left in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets’ lead expanded to 10 points, 17-7, as a 15-play, 72-yard, 6:56 drive resulted in an 8-yard scoring toss from Haddock to Beard with 8:01 left in the third period.
Sul Ross roared back, however, scoring 21 consecutive points before the fourth quarter began.
With 5:01 left in the period, Carlo Dominguez caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Austin Davidson to trim the deficit to 17-14.
T.J. Barber then reeled off a 72-yard touchdown run to give the Lobos their first lead, 21-17, with 1:55 left in the third period.
Just 49 seconds later, following an HPU three-and-out, Davidson connected with Jamal Groover on a 74-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 28-17.
“We’re disappointed, but there’s a whole lot of 0-3 teams that when you go down and give up 21 points in the third quarter, they would pack it in,” Redwine said. “We didn’t do that and I really appreciate that. I’m really hoping through all this we’re continuing to get better and putting ourselves in position to win games again, and hopefully the next time we’ll get it done.”
Sul Ross finished with 409 yards of total offense as Davidson completed 11-of-24 passes for 232 yards with three touchdowns. Barber added 144 yards rushing while Jarrett Dickens caught four passes for 100 yards with a first-half score and Groover had two receptions for 104 yards, including his touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets outgained Sul Ross, racking up 461 yards of total offense, but turned the ball over six times compared to the Lobos’ three giveaways.
Through the air, Haddock was 17-of-37 for 241 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Jason Lovvorn returned from an injury and completed 13-of-25 attempts for 136 yards and one interception.
Cody McKenzie rushed for 49 of HPU’s 84 yards on the ground, while Howard caught six passes for 21 yards, Justin Havard pulled down five receptions for 83 yards and Beard hauled in five catches for 52 yards.
The Yellow Jackets will attempt to break a five-game losing streak, dating back to the 2006 season finale, when they visit ASC rival Texas Lutheran at 2 p.m. Saturday. The last three losses for Howard Payne have been by a combined 11 points.
“I don’t have any doubt we’re going to have a great game,” Redwine said. “Our guys, if you look back, have played really well on the road and I think we’ll do that again next week.”