Neither a comeback nor an upset were in Howard Payne’s bag of tricks Saturday as the No. 16 Hardin-Simmons Cowboys gashed the Yellow Jackets, 60-13, in American Southwest Conference action at Gordon Wood Stadium.
Hardin-Simmons (6-1, 4-1) rolled up 40 points and 427 total yards in the first half alone and finished with 692 yards of total offense. Howard Payne (2-4, 1-3) - which rallied from a 12-point deficit last week to defeat McMurry and stunned Hardin-Simmons, 48-47, in overtime last year - trailed by 34 points at intermission.
“We didn’t play very well and we didn’t play with much confidence,” said HPU first-year head coach Steve Fanara. “When you’re going up against a team like Hardin-Simmons and they’re doing the things they do well, it’s hard to gain that confidence back.
“After watching their game last week against East Texas Baptist and with them scoring 40 against those guys, I knew they were playing some of their best football of the season right now. I was disappointed in our effort at times in the first half when the spread was starting to gain on us. We have to keep battling for four quarters.”
Hardin-Simmons finished with 499 yards on the ground - without starting tailback Josh Stephens taking the field. Steven Rockwell led the way with 178 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, while Derrick Grant chipped in 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns on eight attempts.
Mychal Carrillo added 59 yards rushing on two carries and also caught a team-high five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Justin Feaster connected on 10-of-11 passes with two touchdowns and finished with 178 of Hardin-Simmons’ 193 passing yards.
“They were physically knocking us off the ball. Combine that with some poor tackling and that made for a real bad mixture today,” Fanara said. “Defensively we gave up a lot of big plays and a lot of long runs. When you find yourself in that situation when you’re getting knocked off the ball, the other people have to rally and be good tacklers and we didn’t do that today.”
Offensively, the Yellow Jackets’ performance wasn’t too shabby as they finished with 376 total yards, but two turnovers and two missed opportunities to score inside the Hardin-Simmons 5 prevented Howard Payne from keeping the outcome more respectable.
Zach Hubbard completed 33-of-46 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while rushing for a team-high 51 yards on nine carries.
Five Yellow Jackets caught five passes - Cody Hambrick for 66 yards, Tre Mason for 43 yards and a touchdown, Lane Wakefield for 36 yards, Edward Cody for 34 yards and Corbin Young for 32 yards. Trevor Kleine added four catches for 17 yards and Howard Payne’s other touchdown.
Hardin-Simmons jumped out to a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, marking the fifth game in a row in which the Yellow Jackets’ opponent scored first.
Grant ran for a 3-yard touchdown at the 11:23 mark, Rockwell rumbled for a 28-yard score with 7:45 left in the period and Carrillo caught a 31-yard scoring toss from Feaster on the last play of the quarter.
“I don’t think we came out of the locker room with the right mindset we needed and that’s on me,” Fanara said. “I’m going to have to find a way to make that happen. The last several weeks we’ve come out and shot ourselves in the foot in the first quarter. We’re going to have to do something differently.”
The Cowboys added three more touchdowns in the second quarter to give them more points in the first half than Howard Payne had allowed in a game all season.
Rockwell scored on an 11-yard run and Jerrad Grisham took a reception 60 yards for a touchdown as Hardin-Simmons increased its lead to 33-0 at the 8:03 mark of the second period.
Howard Payne finally got on the scoreboard when Hubbard hooked up with Mason on their sixth touchdown connection of the season, a 4-yard toss with 5:30 left in the first half.
But the Cowboys added another touchdown before halftime as Rockwell scored on a 27-yard run with 2:38 left before the break.
“I was a little embarrassed to be quite honest,” Fanara said. “If I was a fan in the bleachers I probably would have left at halftime, but I want to thank those folks that stayed out here and continued to support us. That’s important to these guys.”
Hardin-Simmons continued its onslaught through the third quarter as the Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half and went into the fourth period with 627 yards of total offense.
Taylor Bird scored on a 4-yard run at the 11:56 mark of the third period, then Grant reeled off a 93-yard scoring jaunt after a Howard Payne drive bogged down in the red zone.
Kleine caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Hubbard with 3:46 left in the third period, but Hardin-Simmons tacked on one final score as Jayce Boyd ran in from 11 yards out with 13:38 left.
HPU will try to regroup and get back in the win column next week at Louisiana College (3-3, 1-3) which beat ETBU, 27-20, Saturday.
“We’re going to continue to get better, continue to work hard and continue to coach hard, but like I told the kids at halftime, at some point we have to see some results,” Fanara said. “You can talk about improving all you want and getting better and practicing harder, but at some point it’s got to be displayed physically in the end result. That’s where we are right now. We’re just not getting the results we’re looking for.”