Having matched their best start to a season since 2009, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets are now looking for their first 3-0 record since 2006 as they welcome the Southwestern Assemblies of God Lions in Saturday’s 1 p.m. home opener at Gordon Wood Stadium.
Following a 30-27 victory over Trinity in the opener, the Yellow Jackets held off Wayland Baptist, 27-21, last week. In both games, Howard Payne owned a fourth quarter lead that it lost, yet managed to rally and emerge victorious.
“It’s a testament to our players and their resiliency,” said HPU third-year head coach Roger Geise. “I’d like to have one of those games where you’re ahead 35-0, 42-0 at the half and you can play a lot of people and don’t have to worry. We haven’t had that situation yet and I don’t know if we ever will this season. But our kids are seasoned individuals and they’ve been through this a little bit. They have great confidence in their ability to overcome.”
After regaining a 27-21 lead with 9:57 left in the contest, the Yellow Jackets defense came through with a late sack in the red zone by Nigel Deas, while Victor Gonzales picked off a pass on the final Wayland drive to secure the victory.
“It was a tough ball game,” Geise said. “I don’t know why, but the three games we’ve played with Wayland so far have been nail biters that go right down to the finish. We got punched in the mouth to start, but our kids responded in great fashion. I expect this week to be a ball game like we just went through this past week.”
SWAGU (0-1) kicked off its season with a 21-14 loss at Bethany on Sept. 6 and had its bye last week. In the Lions’ only game this season, they finished with just 199 yards of total offense and two turnovers, while yielding 393 yards.
Quarterback C.J. Collins completed 8 of 13 passes for 65 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Dylan Moore caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown and Caleb Shelly added two receptions for 4 yards with a score. On the ground, Eric Smith (65 yards), James Hopkins (43 yards) and Troy Griffin (42 yards) shared the workload.
Defensively, Ethan Eastwood finished with nine tackles followed by Mohammed Mansaray with eight and Ethridge Brooks with six tackles. Promise Jackson recorded two tackles and intercepted a pass.
This marks the sixth consecutive year HPU and SWAGU have crossed paths. Howard Payne has won three of the first five and snapped a two-year SWAGU win streak last season, 41-27. Three of the five games have been decided by 10 points or less, including two by six points.
“Since I’ve been here in 2005 we’ve either scrimmaged them or played them,” Geise said. “Coach (Jesse) Godding has been there I know since 2005 and he’s done a tremendous job over there because they’ve gotten better and better.
“To me, they’re a typical Southwestern Assemblies of God team in that, offensively they have huge linemen and good skill people, and defensively they’re very active, run to the ball well and have pretty good athletes.”
Howard Payne enters the contest averaging 28.5 points and 456.5 yards — 306.5 passing and 150 rushing — per outing, with six turnovers.
Quarterback Richard Young has completed 55 of 92 passes for 586 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, while also rushing for 43 yards. Leading receivers include Colby Mica (16-172), Zarron Dove (6-54), Sayvon Young-Cormier (5-92), Cameron Wong (5-78, 2 TDs), Tracy Morrison (5-51), Kevin Domingue (5-33), Aroldo Nandin (3-25), DeShaun McNeill (3-21), Brandon Simpson (2-53, TD) and Blayne Parrisher (1-19, TD).
The ground game has been sparked by Dove (137 yards, TD), Davidson Jonathan (76 yards), Justin Acosta (38 yards, TD), Richard Porche (26 yards, TD) and Brandon Simpson (11 yards).
“Last week we did enough to win,” Geise said of the offense. “Our passing game was off a little bit, we just weren’t right on target, which meant we didn’t have quite as many receptions. I attribute some of that to Wayland and their athletic ability. What did please me about the offense is the fact that we ran for around 185 yards, and they weren’t runs of 30 or 40 yards, we were slugging it out in the trenches with a variety of individuals.
“We need to continue our production, but we need to become a little bit more efficient throwing the ball. We were just off by an inch or two on some of that stuff. We weren’t as sharp throwing the ball as were at Trinity, and I’d like to see us get back to that.”
The Yellow Jacket defense has recorded eight takeaways thus far and is allowing 24 points and 386.5 yards — 267.5 passing and 119 rushing — per game.
Howard Payne’s defense has been anchored by Adrian Hopkins (20 tackles), Jason Disney (16 tackles, two for loss, one sack, one interception), Christopher Hickey (13 tackles, one for loss), Nigel Deas (13 tackles, two for loss, one sack), Donald Preston (12 tackles, three for loss, one sack) and Jordan Shaw (11 tackles, one interception).
“Defensively, we played lights out against Wayland,” Geise said. “We had a couple of mistakes, a couple of breakdowns, but for the most part we were put in some precarious situations and came through.
“I want to see our defense continue to improve. We gave up around 85 yards rushing this past week, over 300 passing, but we made Wayland one-dimensional, which is the key to winning a ball game. We need to tighten up our coverages a little bit and continue to play good run defense. I like our takeaways, we’ve improved at least through the first two games.”
On the special teams front, Josh Martinez booted field goals of 44 and 36 yards last week, while the Yellow Jackets blocked a Wayland field goal attempt.
“I like the effectiveness our of kicking game, and we also blocked a field goal which was huge,” Geise said. “I just want to see us get better every day. As we climb the rungs of success, we just need to get so much better.”
A concern for HPU just two games into the season is health, as a few players will likely miss Saturday’s home opener.
“We are banged up,” Geise said. “We have a number of individuals who will not play Saturday. We have some young kids who would normally not get a lot of snaps that are going to get a lot of snaps this week. We have a couple of kids that aren’t going to be out there Saturday and we have a couple of others that are going to play hurt.”
Among the players expected to miss Saturday’s game is Dove, HPU’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver, who went out in the second half of last week’s win over Wayland Baptist. The Yellow Jackets adopted a running back by committee approach in his absence last week, and will continue to do so this week, Geise stated.