Jackets out to halt 10-game slump in Saturday's final road contest of season

Two opportunities remain for the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets to post a victory during the 2016 football campaign, with Saturday’s trek to Alpine marking the final road contest of the season.

The Yellow Jackets (0-8, 0-5) will visit the much-improved Sul Ross Lobos (4-4, 3-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at the renovated Jackson Field.

Howard Payne is coming off a 41-6 homecoming loss to McMurry, while Sul Ross suffered a 59-10 home defeat at the hands of American Southwest Conference front-runner Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“I thought we really hurt ourselves offensively last week because McMurry scored two defensive touchdowns which was a huge momentum swing in the game,” HPU head coach Hunter Sims said of last week’s loss, the 10th straight for Howard Payne dating to the 2015 campaign. “That was about a 28-point swing because both times we were in the red zone going in where at least we could have settled for a field goal.

“Our defense held them under their average. (Defensive coordinator) Coach (Cody) Gilbert has got the defense playing hard and good enough for us to win, we just have to get better on the offensive end. Our kickoff return unit was much better. We averaged more on kickoff returns than the longest they’d given up all year, so that was a bright spot for us for sure. But we have to be able move the ball more efficiently.”

The Yellow Jackets enter Saturday’s contest averaging just 16 points and 287 yards — 144 through the air and 143 on the ground — per outing, with 24 turnovers, an average of three per contest.

Starting quarterback Caisson Montieth has completed 76 of 160 passes for 979 yards with seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while Trey Potter has connected on 14 of 46 attempts for 168 yards with a pair of scoring tosses and four picks.

Leading receivers include Derrick Williams (13-323, 3 TDs), Shannon Warren (13-131), Adrian Finley (12-177, TD), Justin Acosta (9-59, TD), Balentin Carranco (5-65) and Eric Haverstock (5-52, TD), while top ground gainers are Montieth (465 yards, 2 TDs), Acosta (235 yards, 2 TDs), Warren (218 yards, 3 TDs), Ezekiel Jordan (92 yards) and Ivy Smith (71 yards).

“We have to find a way to complete more passes and get our passing game going,” Sims said in regard to the offensive keys. “We’ve been moving in the right direction in the run game, even though we took a little bit of a step back last week. We have to move the ball through the air and if we do that and get first downs, we’ll be in good shape.”

The Sul Ross defense is yielding 33 points and 413 yards — 290 passing and 123 rushing — but has forced 28 turnovers, a 3.5 per game clip.

Standouts for the Lobos include Zack Roberson (52 tackles, 17 for loss, 8.5 sacks, one interception), Mike Quinonez (45 tackles, 3.5 for loss, one interception), Alonte Thomas (37 tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries), Damian Espinoza (37 tackles, two fumble recoveries) and Job Mason (35 tackles, 14 pass break-ups).

Meanwhile, Howard Payne’s defense is surrendering 44 points and 472 yards — 296 through the air and 176 on the ground — per contest, with 16 takeaways.

Leading the defensive charge for HPU will be Jason Disney (94 tackles, two for loss, one fumble recovery), Patrick Hunt (63 tackles, one for loss), Dylan Hudson (54 tackles, two fumble recoveries), Austin Kilgore (49 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery), Kris Mack (37 tackles, one interception, two fumble recoveries), Britt Boler (33 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery) and J.T. Estes (30 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries).

“Defensively, we have to play with high energy from start to finish with no lull,” Sims said. “We have to match their physicality and if we can do that, we’ll be in the game late.”

The Sul Ross offense generates 28 points and 366 yards — 211 passing and 157 rushing — per game with 14 turnovers.

Quarterback James Davis 138 of 223 for 1,599 yards with 12 TDs, 9 INTs; 381 rushing yards, 7 TDs) leads the Lobos in both passing and rushing yards. Other weapons include receivers Byron Jones (32-499, 4 TDs), Wesley Moss (23-165, TD), Steven Savedra (19-222, 2 TDs) and Jeremy Reed (17-301, 3 TDs), along with running backs Adrion Smith (255 yards), Andre Wilson (224 yards, 2 TDs), Jordan Batson (157 yards, 3 TDs) and Jeremy Schihab (110 yards, 4 TDs).

“They’re very dynamic and explosive, and extremely athletic,” Sims said. “They have a new offensive coordinator that uses a lot of motion and shifts to try and get you off balance. They’re 54 percent to 46 percent pass to run. Their quarterback can move around well so we have to limit his scrambles, and they have the freshman of the year from last year in receiver Byron Jones, who’s a really good player. They try and hit huge plays and have a large number of explosive plays in conference this year, and we know how strong this conference is.”

Howard Payne will be seeking its first win in Alpine since 2004.

Referring to the lengthy drought at Sul Ross, Sims said. “Even though it’s a five-hour drive, it feels longer to our kids and everybody that goes out there. It is a little bit higher of an attitude, but I think you just drive for a while without seeing anything. The Davis Mountains are really cool and I actually love being out there, but I encourage our kids to sleep.”

The Yellow Jackets will again be short-handed Saturday.

“We still have about the same number of starters out to injury and we’ve suspended a few guys this week as well because of breakfast check and study hall,” Sims said. “We feel it’s vitally important to come to study hall. If you don’t, there will be repercussions and it’s not something we’re going to waver on. We talk to these guys about getting a good education and we mean it.”

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ASC FOOTBALL STANDINGS

Conf. Overall

W L W L

Mary Hardin-Baylor 5 0 8 0

Hardin-Simmons 4 1 7 1

East Texas Baptist 4 1 7 1

Sul Ross 3 2 4 4

Louisiana College 2 3 4 5

McMurry 2 3 3 4

Belhaven 0 5 1 7

Howard Payne 0 5 0 8

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Saturday’s Games

Howard Payne at Sul Ross, 6 p.m.

East Texas Baptist at Hardin-Simmons, 1 p.m.

Mary Hardin-Baylor at Belhaven, 1 p.m.

Louisiana College at McMurry, 2 p.m.

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Oct. 29 Results

McMurry 41, Howard Payne 6

Hardin-Simmons 55, Belhaven 21

Mary Hardin-Baylor 59, Sul Ross 10

East Texas Baptist 64, Louisiana College 62