With both a lopsided loss and a heartbreaking defeat on their resum/ through two games, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets are eager to finally experience their initial victory of the 2007 football season.
The Yellow Jackets are venturing to East Texas for the second weekend in a row, this time battling the NAIA Texas College Steers in non-conference action. Howard Payne (0-2, 0-1) and Texas College (1-3, 0-1) will tangle in a rare 4 p.m. tilt Saturday at Tyler’s Rose Stadium.
“It may be a less important game in terms of conference and the overall season, but after a couple of losses it may make this game even more important from the standpoint of getting back on the winning track,” said HPU head coach Mike Redwine, whose team has lost three straight dating back to the end of the 2006 campaign.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 20-18 loss at East Texas Baptist in the American Southwest Conference opener. Howard Payne improved in virtually every aspect of the game from its season-opening 42-14 loss to Southern Nazarene — which, like Texas College, resides in the Central States Football League — but missed out on enough scoring opportunities to leave Marshall with a loss.
“In an odd way it was both satisfying to see the progress and frustrating that it wasn’t enough to get the job done,” Redwine said. “I really do think we addressed some things from the first game that we needed to. It felt like we let one slip through our fingers.
“We eliminated the big plays defensively and we played much better special teams with two blocks and having one long return. Offensively, we struggled at times, but we won the turnover battle with only two to their four. When you’re in that situation you probably win nine out of 10 times. This was the one time we didn’t, but we had our opportunities.”
Three trips inside the ETBU 25 resulted in no points and three missed field goals, which is one of the areas Redwine wants to see improvement.
“We missed three field goals, but it’s not all about missed field goals,” Redwine said. “It’s about missed red-zone opportunities. We could have scored touchdowns on some of those, but we got inside the 25 and didn’t come away with any points. That was the difference in the game.”
Howard Payne enters Saturday’s game averaging only 16 points and 199 yards of total offense per outing. The Yellow Jackets have completed 51.4 percent of their passes for an average of 161 yards per game.
Quarterback Johnathon Haddock is 27-of-58 for 247 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions, while Jordan Beard (eight catches for 89 yards), Jeff Jefferson (seven catches for 33 yards) and Nice Sellers (five catches for 85 yards and a TD) have served as the top receiving threats over the first two games.
The Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack has again floundered, averaging just 38 yards per contest. Haddock is also HPU’s leading ground gainer with only 43 yards and two touchdowns, followed by Jefferson’s 37 yards and a score.
“We’ve tried to work hard this week on establishing a more consistent running game,” Redwine said. “That will be a key component to the game.”
Though Redwine might like to see more from the running game, Texas College’s defense appears more susceptible to the pass due to a young secondary.
The Steers — led by 24 tackles each from Eric Ellis and Anthony Fitzgerald — are giving up 40 points and 349.7 yards per game, including 241.6 yards per contest through the air.
“They have some youth in their secondary,” Redwine said. “That’s part of the reason why they’ve given up quite a few points in three of their four games. Some of the mistakes they made early on, they’re learning from those and the youth they have is improving. Those guys are gaining experience each week.”
Meanwhile, HPU’s defense is surrendering 31 points and 300 yards per game, but has forced six turnovers. Five Yellow Jackets have posted double figures in tackles for the season — middle linebacker Mark Jimenez (16), cornerback Kasey Black (15), free safety Zach Dauer (13), outside linebacker Jake Dezell (10) and strong safety Derek Elzner (10).
While Redwine has been pleased with the play of the back seven, the front four — ends Kyle Mossakowski (eight tackles, two sacks) and Stephan Bernard (two tackles) and tackles Brian Ortiz (three tackles) and Corwin Dennis (seven tackles) — could be the difference in a Howard Payne win or loss this week.
“Our defensive line is the most experienced part of the team with three seniors and a junior starting,” Redwine said. “It will be interesting to see if can we exploit the youth of their offensive line. Ultimately, our pass rush is going to be a real key. Their quarterback has some mobility and can buy some time. They’ve got good enough receivers that if he has a chance to set his feet and throw the ball downfield, it puts a lot of pressure on our secondary.”
The Steers offense is led by quarterback X’Zavier Bloodsaw, who amassed 355 yards of total offense in a 55-43 loss at Belhaven last week. Bloodsaw, a sophomore, averages 197.7 yards of total offense per game and has completed 54-of-105 passes for 546 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Nolan Williams and Curtis Shaw are ranked first and third, respectively, in the CSFL in receptions. Williams has 21 for 231 yards with two touchdowns, while Shaw has 15 for 121 yards with two scores.
Texas College, like Howard Payne, has had its share of problems on the ground, as no player has rushed for over 100 yards for the season.
Despite three losses in four games, Redwine stated he can’t be sure how good or bad Texas College may be, due to the schedule it has faced. The Steers own a 53-0 win over start-up program UT-Arlington, but has lost to NCAA Division II schools Henderson State, 44-7, and Arkansas Tech, 21-6, along with conference foe Belhaven last week.
“Their scores are hard to make out because they’ve played bigger schools like Henderson State and Arkansas Tech,” Redwine said. “They played more of a club team in UT-Arlington that’s just getting started. It’s a little like last week with ETBU when you looked at the scores and wondered how good they were.
“It’s difficult to tell, but when you look at the film they’re a very good and talented football team. We’re going to see as much talent as maybe any team we’ll see all year. They’re well-coached, I like the schemes they run offensively, they achieve some good balance and use their personnel very well. They’re going to be difficult to beat.”
HPU FOOTBALL, Howard Payne (0-2) at Texas College (1-3), 4 p.m. Saturday, Tyler’s Rose Stadium, 2006 Result: Did not face each other