Four games have passed, four opportunities at victories were left unfulfilled, but the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets don’t have their heads down heading into their toughest stretch of the schedule.
Following losses to Trinity, Wayland Baptist, Southwestern Assemblies of God and Austin College — by an average of nine points — the Yellow Jackets (0-4) venture to Seguin at 6 p.m. Saturday with upsetting the preseason nationally-ranked Texas Lutheran Bulldogs (3-1) as their priority. After a bye next week, Howard Payne begins American Southwest Conference action against East Texas Baptist (3-1) on Oct. 17 followed by games against Hardin-Simmons (3-0) on Oct. 24, Louisiana College (0-3) on Oct. 31, Mary Hardin-Baylor (3-0) on Nov. 7 and Sul Ross (1-2) on Nov. 14.
“The analogy I’ve started to use is a tennis player,” HPU head coach Roger Geise in regard to his team’s current record. “A tennis player is usually going to lose if they have a lot of unforced errors. Unforced errors mean you’re making the mistake of your own and it really doesn’t have anything to do with your opponent. As I look back at the first four games, we’ve been making unforced errors. The interceptions don’t come about because of great plays by the other team, they come about because we don’t catch the ball with our hands or run the wrong route and we’re not on the same page as the quarterback. We fumble the ball and there’s not been a great hit by the defense, it’s just been things we’ve been doing to ourselves.
“It’s never been about effort, it’s been about execution. I’m proud of our kids. They’re out there working hard every day. They have a good attitude and their attitudes might be better than the coaching staff’s at this point. Kids are resilient while coaches in many cases let the losses linger. Part of that nature is it’s our job and livelihood. I’ve not been displeased with our effort, just displeased with the results of the games.”
In last week’s 34-27 home loss to Austin College, Howard Payne was driving for the potential go-ahead touchdown down 31-27 with four minutes left. But one of three turnovers in the game — and 17 for the season thus far — shifted the momentum away from the Yellow Jackets, and another opportunity slipped away.
“If we were getting beat 42-14 or that type of differential it would be one thing, but we’ve lost all four by 14 points or less, and that one by 14 should have been a seven-point game,” Geise said. “The record of those four teams is 12-4. When you look at the difference between this year and the two previous years, the breaks right now are going to the other team and not to us. But you just keep plugging away.”
Aside from the three turnovers — two of which led directly to Austin College touchdowns — the Yellow Jackets generated 422 yards of total offense — 236 through the air and 186 on the ground.
“Our overall performance was good up until three bad plays, three turnovers,” said HPU offensive coordinator Hunter Sims. “If we don’t have those we’re in a great situation. You look at the one at the end and it seems most critical because we had a chance to probably take the lead. But they’re getting better and they did a great job adjusting at halftime because we totally revamped what we did from the first half to the second half. That’s something we’ll continue to build on.”
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets yielded 432 yards but forced a pair of turnovers. Still, Austin College produced 17 points off its takeaways and started two of those scoring drives inside the HPU 35.
On Saturday, the Howard Payne defense will face a Texas Lutheran offense that is generating 41 points and 500 yards — 307 passing and 193 rushing — per game. The Bulldogs have defeated Louisiana College (38-14), Sul Ross (44-27) and SAGU (56-28), with their only loss coming at the hands of Hardin-Simmons (35-27).
“This is a very talented team,” Geise said. “They have one loss to Hardin-Simmons, and Hardin-Simmons scored right at the end of the game to win it. TLU was ranked 18th I think at the time and after Hardin-Simmons beat them they were ranked in the Top 25. So we’re not talking about two teams that are chopped liver.”
Marquis Barrolle leads the Bulldogs in rushing (330 yards, 4 TDs) and is the second-leading receiver (16-94, TD) as Geise feels the tailback is TLU’s most dangerous weapon.
Quarterback Trenton White has completed 86 of 135 passes for 1,070 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for 126 yards. A.J Saucedo has chipped in 218 yards and four scores on the ground, while grabbing a dozen receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. Other top receivers include Jekovan Holmes (17-296, 6 TDs), Caleb Oliver (14-331, 3 TDs) and Chase Ragusa (13-94, TD)
“(Barrolle) is like a water moccasin, he’s tough to get your hands on,” Geise said. “They have two good running backs, but Saucedo isn’t quite as good as Barrolle, who’s a special individual.
“They’re pretty evenly balanced between running and throwing and really have more of a short passing game, but they will take shots occasionally. They throw lots of screens and hitches, those types of things. Their quarterback throws a nice ball and he’s not a bad runner, either.”
If there is an area of weakness for TLU offensively, it may be the offensive line.
“The biggest difference between this year and previous years with TLU is the fact that they’re not as experienced on the offensive line,” Geise said. “They graduated some big dudes and one was an All-America last year. They’re playing with some guys not nearly as experienced, but they’re still scoring points.”
Defensively, HPU is allowing 35 points and 406 yards — 233 through the air and 173 on the ground — with seven turnovers forced.
Standouts thus far have included linebackers Jason Disney (57 tackles, 3.5 for loss) and Jordan Longoria (38 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one fumble recovery), safeties Jordan Shaw (33 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery) and Gage Smith (27 tackles) and lineman Donald Preston (23 tackles, 2.5 sacks).
Offensively, Howard Payne heads into its fifth contest generating 25 points and 397 yards — 248 passing and 149 rushing — per game, while averaging 4.3 turnovers each time out.
TLU counters with a defense that surrenders 26 points and 394 yards — 261 passing and 133 rushing — per game, with 12 takeaways. The Bulldogs are led by Darian Chandler (34 tackles, three sacks), Justus Parker (24 tackles, two interceptions), Dominick Stives (21 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Matt McCullough (20 tackles, three for loss, one interception).
“They’re going to play a variation of the 4-2-5 and they play extremely hard and get after it and try and shut you down,” Sims said. “Louisiana College historically has always had a really good offense and they gave up 14 points to them at halftime but shut them out in the second half. Their coaches do a good job of making adjustments at halftime.”
The Yellow Jacket offense is led by quarterback Richard Young, who has connected on 88 of 167 passes for 974 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Leading receivers include Colby Mica (31-399, 3 TDs), Caisson Montieth (15-90, TD), Patrick Hernandez (8-93), Blayne Parrisher (7-101) and Christian Hosley (6-31). Top ground gainers include Hernandez (217 yards, 2 TDs), Fred Pitts (139 yards, TD) and Justin Acosta (87 yards).
“The main thing I want to see out of us this week is to just play hard no matter what, whether we’re winning or losing, first quarter or fourth quarter,” Sims said. “Don’t worry about the score, don’t worry about what happened the play before, play hard no matter what. Play hard, play smart and play together.”
As for coming away with an upset victory, Geise again pointed to eliminating mistakes and playing with a spirited effort as the keys.
“If you look at football today, unless Team A is so much better player-wise than Team B, most scores are pretty close,” Geise said. “What that means is in order to be successful, you can’t make many mistakes. We just need to cut all the nonsense out, get everything honed and get on the same page. And then play our butts off and let the chips fall where they may.
“It’s very easy to get disgusted and discouraged and not work as hard or practice as hard, or compete as hard. But I can guarantee if you do that the opportunity to win decreases significantly. If you keep on keeping on, you never know when things are going to start going your way. That’s what we’re trying to sell to them, good things will happen if you just keep working.”