The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets snapped a 12-game slump with a 27-14 homecoming victory over Mississippi College last week, and now first-year head coach Roger Geise’s squad will focus on the program’s first win streak since beginning the 2009 campaign at 2-0.

The Yellow Jackets (1-5, 1-2) hit the road for a 1 p.m. Saturday showdown at American Southwest Conference rival East Texas Baptist (1-5, 0-3), which is in the midst of a four-game skid.

Howard Payne has not defeated the Tigers since the ASC opener in 2006, and Geise has tried to caution the Yellow Jackets of the challenge that awaits this week.

“Obviously everybody feels pretty good and there are a lot of smiles this week, but I’m a little concerned about our attitude,” Geise said. “You think sometimes the pressure of getting that first win drives a team and once you get it and know you’re not going 0-for, there’s a great sense of relief. We didn’t practice very well Wednesday or Thursday, they were both very sloppy and that has me concerned. I think maybe our kids don’t understand the importance of this ball game that they need to.”

Last week’s 13-point win established a new season-high in points for the Yellow Jackets, while HPU also surrendered its fewest points in a game this season and forced a season-best six turnovers.

“Defensively, we weren’t getting enough turnovers and I didn’t like where we were giving the offense the ball,” Geise said. “In the Mississippi College game, we had six turnovers and got the ball to our offense in much better position. Then in the second half we were able to pitch the shutout and had some humongous sacks.

“We didn’t have our greatest day offensively, but it was a solid day. We had a good day rushing and one outstanding touchdown pass that iced the game. That was very impressive.”    

Looking ahead to Saturday, while ETBU is struggling at the moment, the Tigers’ strength on offense — the passing attack — happens to be where the Yellow Jacket defense has been most vulnerable, and two corner backs will be making their first-ever starts for Howard Payne due to injuries.

The Tigers are averaging 20 points and 351 yards of total offense per game, with 260 of those yards coming through the air. Quarterback Seth Hubbard has completed 128 of 232 passes for 1,543 yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while Kwame Spikes leads the conference with 47 receptions for 560 yards and five touchdowns. Other receiving threats for ETBU include Roy Denbow (24-370, 4 TDs), Tyler Bates (16-204, TD), Roy Butler (10-54) and Chad Bowers (91-105, TD). John Gable (74-249) and Toi Glover (55-176, 2 TDs) are the leading rushers for the Tigers.    

“ETBU is a lot like us from the standpoint that they’re not flashy, they just have a good group of hard working kids with a blue collar attitude,” Geise said. “A big concern I have is their strong point on offense is our Achilles’ heel on defense. They can throw the ball and we’re still not very good against the pass. Kwame Spikes leads the conference in receiving, but other than that they don’t have any big stars, they’re just solid.

“Seth Hubbard is the quarterback and a senior so he’s been playing quite a lot. He’s been very effective so we need to put pressure on him and hit him either with sacks or right as he releases the ball. From what I’ve seen in tapes, he’s not as effective when he’s being pressured and after you hit him a few times his accuracy diminishes. If we can stop the run effectively to the point where we can get them in a one dimensional game and be able to bring pressure and mix up coverages, I think we’ll be okay.”

Howard Payne’s defense heads into the contest allowing 36 points and 400 yards — 299 passing and 101 rushing — per outing with 15 turnovers forced. The Yellow Jackets are led defensively by linebacker J.D. King (54 tackles, four sacks), safety Josh Eppler (45 tackles, one interception), linebacker and ASC defensive player of the week Bo Ross (36 tackles, 8.5 for loss, four sacks), safety Victor Gonzales (31 tackles, 2.5 for loss) and safety Jonne Warnstaff (30 tackles, fumble recovery).

Offensively, the Yellow Jackets are generating 15 points and 302 yards — 166 rushing and 136 rushing — per outing, but have coughed up the ball 22 times including three last week. Holding on to the ball will be crucial for Howard Payne this week, as playing keep away from ETBU is a key component of the offensive game plan.

“We’re one of the leaders in time of possession in the conference and we need to maintain that,” Geise said. “We need to get first downs, finish drives and score points. The longer we keep it away from them the better off we are.”

Quarterback Thomas Head drives the HPU offense as he has completed 83 of 136 passes for 771 yards with four touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for 224 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. Adrian Lighteard leads the ground game with 463 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Zarron Dove has chipped in 198 yards and a score. Leading receiving threats for the Yellow Jackets include Tyson Swanner (23-224), Karl Stewart (18-147), Tristian Fuentes (8-218, TD), Astin Murray (8-47, TD) and Jon Williams (5-40, TD).

ETBU counters with a defense that surrenders 31 points and 383 yards — 233 passing and 150 rushing — but has created 21 turnovers. Jordan Hayes (51 tackles, four sacks), Collin Bieschke (41 tackles, three interceptions), Teryance Horace (41 tackles, one interception) and Dylan Benge (33 tackles, one fumble recovery) are the top playmakers for the Tiger defense.

“Defensively they play a four-man front and they don’t give up a lot of points,” Geise said. “They played some pretty good people like Wesley, Willamette, Louisiana College and Hardin-Simmons and 42 points is the most they’ve given up. They’re pretty solid.”

In terms of the importance of coming away with a win Saturday, Geise feels a victory would be a reward to the senior class as well as a sign that the program is making a move in the right direction.

“I’m not a big statistics guy so I’m not sure when the last time it was we put together back-to-back wins,” Geise said. “But it’d be huge to put together back-to-back wins for the seniors because they’ve endured a lot. This would be a great memory and experience for them and it would certainly help us overall as a program.”

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ASC FOOTBALL STANDINGS

              Conf.            Overall

Mary Hardin-Baylor    3    0    6    0

Hardin-Simmons    3    0    4    2

Louisiana College    2    1    4    2

Sul Ross    2    1    3    3

Texas Lutheran    1    2    3    3

Howard Payne    1    2    1    5

East Texas Baptist    0    3    1    5

Mississippi College    0    3    1    5

Saturday’s Games

Howard Payne at East Texas Baptist

Hardin-Simmons at Mary Hardin-Baylor

Louisiana College at Sul Ross

Mississippi College at Texas Lutheran