The good news for Howard Payne is the Yellow Jackets are coming off their first victory of the season. The bad news is HPU won’t be able to sneak up on national power Mary Hardin-Baylor, as the Crusaders had their 61-game regular season and 39-game American Southwest Conference win streaks snapped last week.
Game time between Howard Payne (1-7, 1-2) and Mary Hardin-Baylor (7-1, 2-1) is 1 p.m. Saturday in Belton. The Yellow Jackets last defeated the Crusaders in 2005, when the Yellow Jackets pulled a 24-20 home upset over then-No. 2 UMHB.
The last two seasons, UMHB has dished out losses of 80-0 and 84-13 to HPU, and the Crusaders weren’t necessarily in a foul mood those days.
“We know they have to be very angry,” said HPU head coach Roger Geise. “I’ve read some quotes from (UMHB head coach Pete) Fredenburg and I don’t have any doubt they want to make Howard Payne the sacrificial lamb.”
But the Yellow Jackets are looking at UMHB’s 29-26 loss to Hardin-Simmons in a different light, according to offensive coordinator Hunter Sims.
“Everyone has heard the story of David and Goliath, and what we’ve been trying to sell to the kids is when David knocked down Goliath with stones it could have been over and he could have walked away, but he pulled out his sword and cut off the head of the giant. Hardin-Simmons knocked down the giant, and we have an opportunity to do something that hasn’t happened in a long time and cut the giant’s head off.”
The Yellow Jackets carry the momentum of an 18-16 victory over Louisiana College into Saturday’s contest, which halted an 11-game drought that dated back to the second ASC game of the 2014 campaign.
“We’ve endured a lot, we’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations, so it was great for our players and coaches,” Geise said. “We played well in all three aspects and only had one turnover, just an interception. It provided validation as a coaching staff that what we’re doing is correct and if we hadn’t committed so many unforced errors this season we’d probably have a very good record.”
Also during the victory, Colby Mica broke Keith Crawford’s record for receptions in an HPU career.
“The best part about that is it was in a win and Colby also broke the record when we needed him the most, on the game-winning drive,” Sims said. “It’s a testament to the longevity of his commitment at Howard Payne. He’s been our go-to guy the last three years, people know it, and he was still able to break the record. And he came here as a quarterback and didn’t switch until about halfway through his freshman year. He came to me, we talked about it and he had never played receiver before. That’s another testament to his character in that he just wanted to help out and play.”
This season, Mica has caught 52 passes for 677 yards with five touchdowns, while other receiving threats include Caisson Montieth (17-108, TD), Tracy Morrison (11-51), Blayne Parrisher (10-129, TD), Christian Hosley (8-32), Adrian Finley (7-81), Cameron Wong (6-100) and DeAndre Walker (4-99, 2 TDs)
Quarterback Richard Young has completed 151 of 279 passes for 1,588 yards with nine touchdowns and 15 interceptions, while the ground game is anchored by Justin Acosta (256 yards), Patrick Hernandez (217 yards, 2 TDs), Fred Pitts (186 yards, TD), Collin Rome (180 yards) and Ja’Von Dickson (93 yards).
The Yellow Jackets are averaging 20 points and 353 yards — 213 passing and 140 rushing per outing, while giving up 40 points and 473 yards — 275 through the air and 198 on the ground.
Defensive standouts for HPU include Jason Disney (96 tackles, seven for loss, one interception), Jordan Shaw (58 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery), Jordan Longoria (57 tackles, nine for loss, 2.5 sacks), Gage Smith (55 tackles, three for loss), Donald Preston (44 tackles, 13 for loss, 6.5 sacks), Xavier McFalls (42 tackles, two for loss), Britt Boler (39 tackles, five for loss) and Kris Mack (37 tackles, 16 pass break ups).
UMHB is generating 50 points and 462 yards — 231 rushing and 231 passing — per game with just 11 turnovers.
Quarterbacks Zack Anderson (92 of 143 for 1,453 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs) and Blake Jackson (24 of 47 for 285 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) have shared time behind center, Malcolm Miller (446 yards, 8 TDs) and Duane Thompson (362 yards, 5 TDs) are the top rushers and leading receivers include Marcus Wimby (28-486, 2 TDs), Wykeyhe Walker (28-474, 8 TDs), Robert Harris (17-171, 2 TDs), Justin Brumfield (15-181, TD), T.J. Josey (11-126, TD) and Lin Gillham (7-175, 2 TDs).
“Offensively, they’ve morphed into what everybody else does, a lot of stuff in the gun,” Geise said. “They’re good, but they just don’t seem to be quite as domineering as they’ve been in the past. The quarterback (Anderson) is a three- or four-year starter I believe and the running back (Miller) looks like a bowling ball coming at you. He’s 5-8, 235 pounds and if we get him corralled before he gets going we have a chance. If he breaks through the line and gets a head of steam you better just try and tackle him low. But the offensive line isn’t as physical as Hardin-Simmons. It just isn’t quite the same group you’re used to seeing.”
Defensively, the Crusaders yield just 14 points and 282 yards — 233 through the air and 59 on the ground — and have forced 22 turnovers.
Standouts include Pierce Thedford (65 tackles, 11 for loss, two interceptions), Baylor Mullins (48 tackles, two for loss, one interception), Reggie Wilson (44 tackles, four for loss, three interceptions) and Teidrick Smith (39 tackles, 23 for loss, 13 sacks).
“They’ve got a defensive lineman (Smith) as good as any D-lineman I’ve seen in my 12 years in this conference,” Sims said. “He was defensive player of the year last year as a sophomore and last week against Hardin-Simmons he had three sacks, blocked a punt and blocked a kick. He’s definitely a game changer and the biggest star on their board.”
Geise added, “Defensively they may be as good as I’ve seen. That’s their calling card. You can do a very good job against their offense, but in the course of the game they’ll probably still score on defense and in the kicking game. They’re very strong in all phases.”
As for pulling off an upset, Geise said, “Anything can happen, but we’d have to play so perfectly and they’d still have to be moping around and not giving a great effort.
“What I want to see from the kids is fight and trying to impose our will on them rather than just taking whatever they dish out like the last couple of years. If our kids do what they’re capable of doing and give an honest effort, I can’t be anything but proud.”