The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets came out on the short end in their season opener against Trinity last week, but second-year head coach Roger Geise feels there’s reason for optimism heading into Saturday’s road trip to Southwestern Assemblies of God.

The Yellow Jackets (0-1), who fell to Trinity by a 47-29 count, will challenge the SWAGU Lions (0-1), who suffered a 35-20 home loss to Bethany, at 6 p.m. Saturday at Waxahachie’s Lumpkins Stadium.

Howard Payne generated four touchdowns against Trinity, including three in the second half, and 364 yards of total offense — 274 passing and 90 rushing — with its new up tempo attack.

“We may have been a little out of sync the first half offensively,” Geise said. “The second half it seemed like the whole rhythm picked up. We had some issues with protection in the first half that got corrected, so our second half protection was much better.

“I also felt (quarterback) Richard (Young) was a little rusty early on. His mechanics were off in the first half, but in the second half he picked it up. I think we got a pretty good glimpse of what the future holds. I was also very pleased with the receivers. For the most part they did a good job catching the ball and gaining yardage.”

Young completed 24 of 40 passes for 274 yards with four touchdowns as leading receivers included Colby Mica (6-68, TD), Astin Murray (5-69), Kevin Domingue (4-45), Zarron Dove (4-25), Tristian Fuentes (3-32, 2 TDs), Sayvon Young-Cormie (1-27, TD) and Joshua Kennedy (1-8). Dove also chipped in a team-high 56 yards on the ground, while Young ran for 19 yards.

As promising as the offense looked, the defense experienced its fair share of struggles in the opener. The Yellow Jackets surrendered 457 yards and had trouble stopping both the run and the pass as Trinity netted 241 yards on the ground and 216 through the air.

Bo Ross tallied 12 tackles followed by Victor Gonzales and Jason Disney with nine apiece, Donald Preston with eight, Nigel Deas with seven and Xavier McFalls and Josh Eppler with six each. Jordan Shaw accounted for HPU’s lone takeaway with an interception.

“We’ve still got some issues on defense and I think some of that has to do with the fact that we were doing some things a little different in the back,” Geise said. “One of the things I’m hanging my hat on is if we continue to repeat, repeat, repeat, we’re going to be better on the back end. Then at the end of the game they started running the ball down our throats a little bit. That’s a situation where we essentially knew the outcome of the game.

“We’ve got Bo Ross and Victor Gonzales and Maurice Young, but we’re still an extremely young football team. We have more than 130 kids in the program and only 21 of them are either juniors or seniors. We’re young and it’s just a matter of those young kids seeing things at game speed. We need to improve every week, but I think we have the young men to become a quality defensive unit.”

In SWAGU’s season-opening loss, the Lions jumped out to a 20-7 lead before yielding the final 28 points of the contest.

“They kicked off at noon on turf, which had to be ungodly hot, but I think maybe they got tired and the conditioning factor may have hurt them a little,” Geise said. “Bethany’s not bad, though.”

The Lions finished with just 182 yards of total offense — 112 rushing and 70 passing — and committed two turnovers.

Reid Golson completed 10 of 24 passes for 70 yards with a touchdown and rushed for a team-high 47 yards. Josh Harris added 28 yards on the ground, James Haskins chipped in 26 and Troy Griffin rushed for 10 yards and a score. Trevor McKinley led SWAGU with five catches for 20 yards and a touchdown, Caleb Shelly caught two passes for 31 yards and Griffin and Venique Benton each pulled down an 11-yard reception.

“SWAGU is always going to be humongous on their offensive and defensive lines,” Geise said. “The starting quarterback and running back were both at Howard Payne at one time, so we’re very familiar with those two. We’re going to see the pistol and a lot of zone read, but in the first game the quarterback didn’t keep it very much. They do like to throw the ball a little, a lot of verticals and combination routes.

“Defensively, we have to continue to eliminate the big play. If they can drive the ball 85 yards and it takes 16 snaps, so be it. That’s a feather in their cap and they deserve it. If we step out the and in one play they score, that’s not good. We have to improve some of our techniques, our reads and trust what we’re seeing with our eyes.”

The SWAGU defense yielded 325 yards, including 227 rushing and 98 passing, but forced a pair of turnovers. The Lions also surrendered an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown. Ethan Eastwood returned an interception 30 yards for a SWAGU touchdown, while leading tacklers included Isaac Caston with nine, Jeremiah Maat with eight and Rodney Johnson Jr. with seven.

“They’re very multiple and our offensive coaches are trying to figure out if they’re going to line up in the 3-4, 4-2-5 or the 3-3 stack,” Geise said. “Against Bethany, it was almost like by quarter they were changing. We’re not sure what we’re going to get, but we know they’re going to be a quality opponent.

“We just have to make sure when we have the opportunities, we score points. And it’s not how many points you score, it’s when you score them. If you’re down 28-7 and start scoring a bunch of points it looks good on the stat sheet, but it doesn’t really have much effect on winning and losing. If you score 28 points early, then you’re putting the other team in a hole and that’s significant.”

Saturday’s meeting will mark the fifth between the two teams. Howard Payne won the first two contest by counts of 23-17 in 2009 and 32-7 in 2010. SWAGU is currently in the midst of a two-game win streak in the series with victories of 21-15 in 2011 and 27-17 last season.