Six weeks of frustration — including four weeks of near misses — ended last Saturday as the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets cracked the win column for the first time in 2007. Now head coach Mike Redwine’s squad is attempting to string together back-to-back victories for the first time since last November.
American Southwest Conference foe Louisiana College (2-5, 1-4) comes calling as the Yellow Jackets (1-6, 1-4) prepare for Saturday’s 2 p.m. homecoming game at Gordon Wood Stadium. Howard Payne is coming off a 48-47 overtime victory at Hardin-Simmons, while the visiting Wildcats suffered a 27-23 loss to East Texas Baptist last week.
“If last week was just any win, no matter who it was, I think it would have lifted our spirits,” Redwine said. “But whenever you’re playing Hardin-Simmons, you know that it’s more than just “a” win. The way it happened was a big thing for our players. It got the monkey off our back in terms of close games. It was almost fitting and maybe rewarding for our guys that they hung in there and finished the deal.”
Being pushed to a third overtime game this season and coming off the high of upsetting an archrival could lead to a letdown for the Yellow Jackets, but Redwine doesn’t expect that will be the case as Howard Payne will likely be playing in front of its largest home crowd of the season.
“We’ve had some disappointing losses and as exciting as they might have been, they were also mentally and physically taxing,” Redwine said. “Last week we came back with a win that was equally as taxing and we certainly don’t want to have a letdown. But our schedule is nice in that it allowed us to not only come off this win with a home game, but a homecoming game. This won’t be just our normal crowd, so I think that will certainly give our guys a little extra emotional boost.”
Giving up 502 yards of total offense and 47 points might not sound like a stellar defensive effort, but Howard Payne allowed just three touchdowns combined in the second half and overtime against Hardin-Simmons.
“Defensively we gave up a few points, but so has everyone else that’s played Hardin-Simmons,” Redwine said. “But we actually came up with some defensive stops when we needed them. We played much better in the second half.”
The Yellow Jackets — who allow 37.9 points and 376.6 yards per game — will face another stern test from the pass-happy Louisiana College offense.
The Wildcats are averaging 26.1 points per game and 302.1 of their 396.1 yards per game come through the air.
“For our defense, this will be similar to what they see every day in practice when they face our offense,” Redwine said. “They’re pass-oriented, they pass to set up the run. There’s some real similarities to what we do.”
LC is led by quarterback Ben McLaughlin and his 1,936 yards passing and 14 touchdowns.
“Their quarterback is a bigger guy (6-3, 205 lbs.) and he has a pretty good sense in the pocket,” Redwine said. “He’s knows when to stay in, he knows when to run it and he’s effective in both areas. He’s got pretty good speed, as well.”
Taylor Huffman leads the Wildcats with 56 receptions for 687 yards and three touchdowns, followed by Thomas Bachman’s 31 catches for 314 yards and two scores and Justin Johnson’s 23 grabs for 335 yards with a team-high four scoring receptions.
The ground game is anchored by Bobby Rose, who has rushed for 336 yards and five TDs, and James Gathright, who has chalked up 221 yards and a score.
Howard Payne’s defense is led by 46 tackles from Mark Jimenez and 40 tackles from Landon Dyer, both linebackers. Secondary members Ricky Austin, Kasey Black and Andrew Hansen have each intercepted two passes.
Defensively, Louisiana College is surrendering 36.6 points and 393.7 yards per game, including 196.4 rushing.
Howard Payne is coming off its best rushing performance of the season, sparked by Zach Howard’s 117 yards and four touchdowns.
“We were able to achieve more of a balance last week,” Redwine said. “The tailback position is the one area on our team where we’ve just had injury after injury. It created a revolving door in which we’ve been forced to play six different guys during the season.
“Our offensive is doing a good job, and we’re finally starting to get a couple of guys back healthy. One of those guys is Zach Howard, and he’s given us a boost the last three games. Cody McKenzie is also back. He played a few snaps last week and we anticipate using him more this week. Having a few guys back that are a little more comfortable back there can only help.”
The Yellow Jackets are also more than capable of picking apart Louisiana College’s secondary with their passing attack.
Jason Lovvorn has completed 89-of-155 passes for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jordan Beard leads all HPU receivers with 34 catches for 576 yards and five touchdowns, while Howard has caught 28 passes out of the backfield for 290 yards and a score. Other receiving threats include Justin Havard (20-234), Edward Cody (18-156, TD), Nice Sellars (12-228, 4 TDs) and Genoa Dill (10-201, 3 TDs).
Redwine expects Louisiana College to play several different defenses in an attempt to confuse the HPU offense and gain an advantage.
“They run a combination of coverages, both man and zone,” Redwine said. “One of the interesting things this week will be the game within the game. We’ll have to see how they are going to align against certain formations. Early on, we’ll try to get a bit of a feel for what they’re thinking defensively and see if we gain an advantage using certain formations.”
Where Louisiana College may have the edge is in special teams. While the Yellow Jackets have struggled at times, Louisiana College has turned a pair of blocked punts into a touchdown and a safety the last two games. The Wildcats also have a dangerous returner in Jordan Rideaux, who averages 32.5 yards per kick return with two touchdowns.
“They appear to be very sound on special teams and have made some big, momentum changing plays the last several ball games,” Redwine said.