PINEVILLE, La. — With two minutes left in the first half, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets trailed No. 23 Louisiana College by only four points, but a long touchdown pass swung the momentum firmly in the host Wildcats’ favor en route to a 38-6 victory in Saturday’s American Southwest Conference opener for both teams.

Instead of finding themselves down 7-3 at halftime, the Yellow Jackets (0-4, 0-1) trailed 14-3 at the break and surrendered an additional 17 points in the third period as Louisiana College (3-1, 1-0) carried a 31-6 edge into the fourth period.

Louisiana College’s Kyle Galyon took a screen pass from Jaime Bunting, broke a few Howard Payne tackle attempts, and raced 68 yards to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 11 points with 1:45 left before intermission.

“The touchdown right before the half on a screen play that went for about 68 or 70 yards, that got me agitated because I felt like we just didn’t play that play very hard,” said Howard Payne first-year head coach Roger Geise. “I knew being down 14-3 as compared to 7-3 was not a good situation to be in against this football team.

“We were playing our guts out and I felt like if we could get it to halftime at 7-3, even though we had to kick off, all that has to happen is one mistake and we could capitalize and be ahead. Down 14-3, they could make a mistake and we could capitalize and still be behind. We have to learn to play every last tick on the clock to be successful.”

Howard Payne was able to move 58 yards in eight plays on its first drive of the second half, which resulted in the second 27-yard field goal of the day by Joshua Martinez that closed the gap to 14-6 with 9:15 left in the third period. But Louisiana College fired back with 24 unanswered points.

The Wildcats immediately answered Howard Payne’s second field goal with a three-play, 65-yard drive that ended in an 18-yard scoring toss from Tim Curry to Cortland Bell that extended the lead to 21-6 with 7:52 left in the third period.

The Yellow Jackets then began to come unraveled by their own mistakes on the offensive end as a pair of fumbles set up the next 10 Louisiana College.

First, Curry and Bell again hooked up on a 40-yard scoring toss at the 6:05 mark of the third period to cap a two-play, 40-drive and stretch Louisiana College’s lead to 28-6.

At the 3:23 mark, Adam Olivares booted a 19-yard field goal to extend the Wildcats’ advantage to 25 points and cap a seven-play, 30-yard march.

Reggie Sims recored the final Louisiana College points on a 4-yard touchdown run with 9:10 remaining, which put the finishing touches on a six-play, 31-yard trek.

The Yellow Jackets finished with just 187 yards total offense, and only 14 yards through the air on 5 of 19 passing, while turning the ball over four times and committing seven penalties for 154 yards. Adrian Lighteard was the brightest light for the HPU offensive attack as he rushed for 134 yards rushing on 15 carries.

“I told the players what bothers me the most is the repeated errors we make, the same errors like turning the ball over so much and the penalties,” Geise said. “When I was in high school my coach said if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again either you can’t do it or you don’t have the correct attitude.”

The Wildcats racked up 396 yards of total offense, including 303 passing as Curry threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns and Bunting passed for 115 yards and a score. Bell caught four passes for 78 yards and two trips to the end zone while Galyon added four receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Ryan Montague compiled 61 yards on 13 carries.

Louisiana College put the first points on the board with seven minutes left in the first period as Montague scored on a 2-yard carry — capping a three-play, 21-yard drive following an interception — but the Wildcats were held scoreless over the next 20:15 before the late first-half touchdown.

“We’ve kind of gotten rocked by them the last few years, but we hung in there today,” Geise said. “We came in here and battled tooth and toenail. The score, I don’t think, is indicative of our effort. They got some on us at the end, not because we weren’t trying, but there comes a time you know it’s over even when it isn’t over on the clock and you don’t necessarily give your best effort. We just have to keep playing and chopping wood, and one day it’s going to wind up in our favor.”

The Yellow Jackets will host Hardin-Simmons at 1 p.m. Saturday in their ASC home opener.