Yellow Jackets surrender 654 yards of total offense in home opener

The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets’ debut at Gordon Wood Stadium under first-year head coach Braxton Harris featured some unruly guests, as the No. 7 Hardin-Simmons Cowboys dished out a 63-3 shellacking in American Southwest Conference football action Saturday afternoon.

Despite missing starting quarterback Landry Turner, a Graham graduate, Hardin-Simmons still generated 654 yards of total offense — 356 rushing and 298 passing. The Cowboys (3-0, 2-0) came into Saturday’s contest averaging 64.5 points and 638.5 yards over their first two outings.

Howard Payne (0-3, 0-2), meanwhile, mustered just 168 total yards — 101 rushing and 67 passing — and punted 12 times, while losing the ball once on a fumble.

In his first start at quarterback, freshman Mitchell Jennings completed 6 of 22 passes for 67 yards, while rushing for 17 yards. Jennings is just one of two dozen freshmen listed on the Howard Payne two-deep roster.

Tariq Gray, another freshman, caught a team-best three passes for 49 yards for HPU, including a 30-yarder that helped set up Howard Payne’s only points. Freshman Hunter Batten rushed for a team-best 29 yards while freshman Brett Martinez chipped in 25 on the ground.

Trailing by 30 late in the first half, the Yellow Jackets’ lone scoring drive was an 11-play, 58-yard journey that ended with a 27-yard field goal by freshman Jacob Walters — the ASC Special Teams Player of the Week in the opening weekend of the season.

Aside from that Howard Payne drive, Hardin-Simmons dominated in every aspect. The Cowboys led 16-0 after one quarter, 30-3 at the break and 51-3 through three frames.

Jaquan Hemphill, a Coleman graduate, rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns while Xavier Jones equaled those numbers with 128 yards on the ground and two trips to the end zone. Marc Reed added 45 yards and a touchdown, Kavan Johnson rushed for 33 yards and a score and Zai Zai Smith chipped in 20 yards and a trip to the end zone.

Through the air, second-string quarterback Ty Hooper completed 14 of 17 passes for 208 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — a late first-half pick by senior Patrick Hunter, which triggered HPU’s scoring drive. Reed, the normal third-string quarterback for Hardin-Simmons, connected on 9 of 12 attempts for 90 yards.

Leading receivers for Hardin-Simmons included Reese Childress with six receptions for 113 yard and two scores, while Hemphill added 61 yards on three catches. Alex Bell caught four passes for 31 yards and Jaxson Money finished with three grabs for 31 yards.

Defensively for HPU, Tevin Dawson and Austin Kilgore led the way with 11 tackles each and Jake Wright contributed 10. Wright also finished with 1.5 sacks, Dawson tallied one and Kilgore added a half.

The Yellow Jackets are back on the road next week as they attempt to snap a 15-game losing streak that dates to Halloween 2015 against the Belhaven Blazers. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Saturday in Jackson, Mississippi. Belhaven (1-2, 0-2) suffered a 79-40 loss at East Texas Baptist Saturday night as the Blazers generated 600 yards of offense but allowed 632.