MARSHALL — The final leg of a punishing stretch of games against the 2015 American Southwest Conference tri-champions — all nationally-ranked this season — reached its conclusion Saturday night, with the most gruesome result of the three.
The Yellow Jackets suffered a 76-14 loss to the No. 19 East Texas Baptist Tigers but, more importantly, lost nine significant contributors to major injuries.
“It was definitely pretty rough for the Yellow Jackets tonight,” said HPU first-year head coach Hunter Sims. “What I’m most concerned with really is our health. We had nine starters and/or guys that rotate in go down with significant injuries tonight. We had three knee injuries, a possible broken collarbone, a dislocated elbow, two concussions, a broken hand and an ankle injury.
“That’s probably the result of playing three really strong, tough opponents back-to-back-to-back and getting ground down and worn out. With the long bus ride home, that’s really where my heart is right now, with these guys and how we are physically as a team.”
While injuries hampered the Yellow Jackets (0-7, 0-4), they also hurt themselves by committing six turnovers, being penalized 15 times for 122 yards and surrendering 679 yards of total offense — 337 passing and 302 rushing — to the Tigers (6-1, 3-1).
Howard Payne forced three ETBU turnovers, but managed just 274 yards and a pair touchdowns — one in each half. Adrian Finley caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Caisson Montieth — both of whom were among the injured by game’s end — with 40 seconds left in the first period, while Eric Haverstock caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Trey Potter at the 9:10 mark of the third quarter.
For the Yellow Jackets, Montieth completed 9 of 18 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while being sacked three times. Potter was 5 of 17 for 62 yards with a scoring tosses and two interceptions — including a 32-yard pick six by Zach Biles.
Shannon Warren caught a team-high four passes for 38 yards, Haverstock finished with three grabs for 44 yards, Derrick Williams hauled in two receptions for 50 yards and Balentin Carranco snagged two catches for 22 yards.
On the ground, Ezekiel Jordan led the way with 54 yards while Warren chipped in 49.
Defensively for HPU, Jason Disney collected 10 tackles, Kris Mack finished with nine tackles and an interception and Austin Kilgore and Dylan Hudson both recovered fumbles.
ETBU quarterback Dru Smith connected of 21 of 34 passes for 319 yards and five touchdowns. Richard Johnson caught five passes for 99 yards and two scores, Chase Sojka added five receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown, Cam Peters caught a 34-yard scoring reception and Xavier Gray made a 5-yard touchdown grab.
On the ground, Day’Lonzo Freeman rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown, Jourdan McNeill added 72 yards and a score, Brian Baca finished with 54 yards and a trip to the end zone, Jordan Martinez amassed 40 yards and scored once and Christopher Respass racked up 29 yards and a touchdown.
The Tigers built a 20-7 lead after one quarter which grew to 34-7 at halftime and 55-14 through three periods.
The good news for the Yellow Jackets is the toughest part of the schedule is behind them. Howard Payne closes against McMurry (2-4, 0-3) — which visits at 4 p.m. Saturday for homecoming — Sul Ross (4-3, 2-1) and Belhaven (1-6, 0-4).
“We have three games left, three winnable games but they won’t be winnable if we let this bleed over, “Sims said. “They’ve got to understand that and keep their heads up. There will be some guys that have to step and guys whose names may have never been called before playing next week for homecoming.”