Bulletin Staff Report
MARSHALL — The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets had a victory kicked out of their grasp in the American Southwest Conference opener Saturday afternoon.
East Texas Baptist kicker Kyle Pope converted an 18-yard field goal with two seconds left as the Tigers edged the Yellow Jackets, 20-18, in a seesaw battle at Ornelas Stadium.
The kick was the culmination of a 14-play, 68-yard drive that chewed 4:53 off the clock. It also sent the Yellow Jackets (0-2, 0-1) to their second straight loss after starting the season with a 42-14 defeat at the hands of Southern Nazarene on Sept. 1.
“I think I might have to dye my hair back to brown after this one today,” said HPU head coach Mike Redwine. “We had our chances and we were really close on a few plays that we didn’t make. Those could have ended the game, and maybe even early. You win some and you lose some.”
East Texas Baptist (1-2, 1-0) — which was outscored 69-19 in its first two games — overcame a four-turnover performance by outgaining the Yellow Jackets, 319-168, in total yardage and owning the time of possession advantage, 37 minutes to 23.
“Defensively, we created turnovers and that’s what we need to do, but we had our defense on the field far too long,” Redwine said.
HPU quarterback Johnathon Haddock completed 14-of-33 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Haddock also tallied 38 of HPU’s 53 rushing yards with two more scores.
Jeff Jefferson caught a team-high four passes for 26 yards, while Nice Sellers and Edward Cody finished with three catches each for 49 and 22 yards, respectively.
Kasey Black finished with nine tackles to lead the Jacket defense, while Mark Jimenez recorded an interception and Landon Dyer, Dominique Clark and Steven Rowell recovered fumbles.
ETBU threw for 291 yards as Stephen Oehlschlaeger was 15-of-26 for 187 yards with a touchdown, while starter Thad Fortune completed 8-of-12 attempts for 101 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Rodney McLain recorded eight catches for 136 yards with a touchdown, while Ruben Robinson also had eight receptions for 98 yards. Corey George led the Tigers’ rushing attack with 78 yards.
Defensively, Austin Sturrock and Brandon Joslin notched seven tackles each for ETBU, while Victor Flores intercepted Haddock twice.
The Yellow Jackets took an 18-17 lead with 12:42 left in the game as Haddock scored from 2 yards out on fourth-and-goal. Howard Payne’s go-ahead touchdown was set up by an ETBU fumbled option pitch that was recovered by Rowell on the Tiger 9. The two-point conversion failed, which proved to be the difference in the game.
Howard Payne left more points on the field throughout the afternoon as Jordan Bullard missed three field goals — from 42, 42 and 26 yards — and Haddock had a pass intercepted at the Tiger 3.
“Through the play of our defense and offense we got ourselves in position for three additional field goals,” Redwine said. “We’re not down on Jordan. We’d line him up and kick it again. He’s won some games for us in the past.”
The Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their initial possession, which began on the ETBU 47 after the Tigers failed to convert a fourth-and-1 just 3:11 into the game.
Howard Payne’s first snap resulted in a 38-yard completion from Haddock to Sellers. Two plays later, Haddock scored on a 1-yard dive.
The Yellow Jackets had a chance to extend their advantage when their second drive began at the ETBU 45 following a fumble that was recovered by Clark. Bullard’s first 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide, however.
East Texas Baptist then responded with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns to gain the lead.
The Tigers pulled even at 7-all 47 seconds into the second period on a 2-yard run by Jair Stover. The run capped an 11-play, 97-yard trek that took 5:51.
At the 4:01 mark, the Tigers went ahead on a 24-yard scoring toss from Oehlschlaeger to McLain. The pass provided the finishing touches for a six-play, 75-yard journey.
Howard Payne converted its only field goal attempt with 20 seconds left in the first half to cut the deficit to 14-10. Bullard booted a 43-yarder to cap a nine-play, 29-yard drive.
The Yellow Jackets also struck first in the second half as Zach Dauer blocked an ETBU punt that was recovered by the Tigers in the end zone for a safety, which closed the gap to 14-12.
“Our special teams played much, much better today and that’s a positive,” Redwine said. “On the punt, fortunately the player that was assigned to their up back rushed in hard enough that the up back had to step up and take him, which allowed Zach to come off the edge and get a piece of it.”
The Yellow Jackets were pinned back at their 6 following a 77-yard free kick from former HPU punter Brandon Stevens, and an interception four plays later set the Tigers up at the Howard Payne 32.
Pope drilled a 42-yard field goal to expand ETBU’s lead to 17-12 with 11:12 left, but the Tigers’ turnover on their ensuing possession allowed Howard Payne to regain the lead.
“What we really wanted was for our guys to show up and give a good, gutsy effort,” Redwine said. “What we didn’t want was for the guys to roll over and give in and during the first game when we got behind we may have done that a little bit. That was disappointing, but I felt we got the kind of effort we were looking for today.”
The Yellow Jackets’ search for their first victory will send them to Tyler to face Texas College next weekend, where they will do battle with the Steers in a non-conference contest at 4 p.m. Saturday.