The wound is still fresh for the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets, who were unable to put away Belhaven last weekend to secure their second win of the season. Head coach Braxton Harris’ troops must move forward, however, where a trip to East Texas Baptist awaits this weekend.
Kickoff between the Yellow Jackets (1-3, 1-2) and Tigers (2-2, 1-2) is slated for 6 p.m. Saturday in Marshall.
The Yellow Jackets head into the contest coming off a 20-19 home loss to Belhaven, a game in which HPU lost the lead with 20 seconds remaining.
“We talked about it after the game and for the first time since I’ve been here, that was the first time we truly lost a football game,” Harris said. “We had a great opportunity to win and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities to win it. This is the third time we’ve had a lead in a ball game since I’ve been here and not being able to finish, that is something we have to learn as a football team, how to be able to do that.”
As for the loss lingering with the Yellow Jackets, Harris said, “If it didn’t hang around and leave a bad taste in your mouth then you’re probably doing the wrong thing with your life. This definitely hangs with you, but we want it to be a reminder about how it felt so we don’t get into that situation again. We don’t want it to be so much a negative feeling, but use it as motivation and encouragement to be able to push forward in those kinds of situations.
“Our kids came out and did a great job this week of responding in practice. There were a lot more physical practices this week, we took advantage and valued our competition periods against each other, not just checked off a box that we did it. The how we go do things is what’s going to make a difference for us, and that’s how we’re building this program.”
There were positives for the Yellow Jackets to build on despite the final outcome.
“Any time you score two weeks in a row on special teams it’s big,” Harris said. “Two weeks ago we returned a kick against Hardin-Simmons and last week we blocked a punt and scooped and scored on it. One of the things we talked about when we started to build this program is we have to be good on special teams, and we’re starting to see the results of that. Now we have to continue to progress offensively and defensively to be competitive.
“Defensively we did some good things, held them to 2.5 yards per rush. Those are all good things, but you can’t give up a 90-yard drive to win the game. There’s plenty of opportunities throughout the course of that drive where we can get off the field and did not do that.
“On offense, on third-and-2 we have to pick up a first down to continue the drive and run the clock out and we didn’t do that. We didn’t go get it. You have to be able to do those things to win college football games and we didn’t do those things on Saturday.”
East Texas Baptist enters the contest with victories over Belhaven (46-20) and Southwestern (51-21), and losses to nationally-ranked Hardin-Simmons (59-17) and Wisconsin-Platteville (59-44).
“They’re a 2-2 football team, but they lost to the No. 6 team in the country and a Top 25 team in Platteville which they had a 21-0 lead on,” Harris said. “In my opinion this is a Top 25 team in the nation.”
The Tigers enter the contest averaging 40 points and 474 yards — 327 passing and 147 rushing — per game, with seven turnovers.
Quarterback Brian Baca has completed 64 of 122 passes for 1,245 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions, while rushing for 86 yards and a team-best five touchdowns. Leading receivers include Richard Johnson (19-373, 4 TDs), Kane Johnson (16-157, TD), Tarek Beaugard (8-286, 3 TDs) and Jauque Kuykendall (8-282, TD). Top ground gainers are Jeremiah Robertson (214 yards, 2 TDs), Dominic Haggerty (174 yards, TD) and Justin Ward (152 yards, TD).
“Offensively they have one of the best quarterbacks in the conference in Baca,” Harris said. “He does a fantastic job with his legs and his arm, he can hurt you both ways. They also have very talented receivers that can play after the catch. They can take a 5-yard hitch to the house.”
The Yellow Jackets counter with a defense that is yielding 38 points and 483 yards — 270 passing and 213 rushing — per outing with six takeaways.
Leading tacklers are Austin Kilgore (47 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack), Britt Boler (30 tackles, 6 for loss, 1.5 sacks), Tevin Dawson (28 tackles, 1.5 for loss), Collin Wright (22 tackles, 8 for loss, 3.5 sacks), Elijah Washington (21 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sacks, 1 INT), Juan Luna (21 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 INT) and Brady Wade (18 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack).
“We’re doing a better job at stopping the run,” Harris said. “That was the lowest run total of the year, giving up 106 yards to Belhaven. The big thing for us defensively is we have to get off the field when opportunities are there. Third and longs have to be wins for us, we can’t give offenses a second chance, especially this one.”
The ETBU defense is giving up 40 points and 450 yards — 233 through the air and 217 on the ground — but has created 13 turnovers.
Leading the charge are Garrett Gibson (34 tackles, 3.5 for loss), Josiah Dykes (27 tackles, INT), Zack Biles (23 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FR), Hardy Hill (17 tackles, 2 for loss) and Zack Walker (16 tackles, 3 for loss, 1.5 sacks).
“Defensively, they’re similar to us,” Harris said. “They’re a four-man front, a quarters team across the back end that tries to keep things in front of them, and on third down they’re a lot more blitz. They’re built for speed on the defensive side of the ball.
“We have to be able to challenge that speed on the perimeter and then be able to establish a physical inside run game. To me, that’s the key to it. If we’re able to run the football on their defense that’s going to give us a great opportunity to control the ball, control the clock and for fatigue to become a factor.”
Howard Payne’s offense is producing just 18 points and 239 yards of total offense, with a mere 60 yards coming on the ground.
Quarterback Gage McClanahan has connected on 55 of 107 passes for 716 yards with seven touchdowns and eight picks. Top receivers include DunTayviun Gross (18-230, 3 TDs), Jordan Bryant (16-215, 2 TDs) and Thomas Williams (8-137, 2 TDs). Leading rushers are Kaidrion Latson (193 yards) and Brett Martinez (83 yards).
“There’s no bones about it, we have not met the standard as far as we want to run the football,” Harris said. “We have to get back to running the ball downhill. We have to be able to knock people off the ball first and foremost, then our running backs have to do a great job this week getting downhill and getting behind their pads. In college football the gaps aren’t there very long and sometimes the holes aren’t very big, so you have to hit in the gap. Our running backs and offensive linemen have done a great job this week responding to the physicality of the challenge.”