Coming off last week’s loss to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets are presented with a legitimate opportunity to return to the win column against the winless Sul Ross Lobos this weekend.
Game time between the Yellow Jackets (1-5, 1-4) and Lobos (0-6, 0-5) is slated for 6 p.m. Saturday in Alpine.
“It’s college football and we’re here to win football games, and this is a big opportunity for us to step up and take a chance to continue to move this program in the right direction,” said HPU second-year head coach Braxton Harris. “We feel like we have an opportunity to do that this week and our kids are excited about that challenge. We’re going to continue to work and continue to get better, and I think we’ve gotten better this week. Saturday is an opportunity to show what we can do.”
Howard Payne has not recorded multiple wins in a season since 2014.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 55-0 loss to 13-time ASC champion UMHB in a game played last Friday at Gordon Wood Stadium in an effort to avoid weekend thunderstorms.
“Playing Mary Hardin-Baylor, they’re one of the best in the country, and watching the film you see guys made some good plays in some spots,” Harris said. “It’s never as bad as you think and it’s never as good as you think. There are things we could take away that we saw we’re getting better in certain areas, or this was a good play against a really good football team. We were able to build some confidence off those opportunities. Obviously we’re not there yet and not to their level, but there are things we’re doing better this year than we were last year at this time against those guys.”
Moving the game up a day also presented HPU with extra time to prepare for Sul Ross, but finding a place to practice has been a challenge at times this week due to the heavy rainfall in Brown County.
“We gave everybody off on Saturday, coaches went home and reintroduced themselves to their wives, so that was nice. We came back Sunday and got a workout in here and then the rain came,” Harris said. “We’ve been very fortunate that Coach (Blake Sandford) over at Early has allowed us to work out in their turf room. The last few days we’ve been over there going from about 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and we’ve gotten some good work in there. We’re very fortunate to be a part of this community where Coach Sandford is very helpful and Coach (Sammy) Burnett at Brownwood is very helpful and they’re both very community-oriented and care about this community and what’s best for it. I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to go over there, if not we’d be very concerned because we would have been in a gym all week.”
Sul Ross, which posted a 5-5 mark a year ago, is still searching for its initial victory of 2018 with its closest call being a 35-24 loss to McMurry — the team Howard Payne defeated this season, 37-31 in double overtime, in Week 2.
“Sul Ross last year had a really big senior class and graduated a lot of guys,” Harris said. “A lot of times when that happens the next year you struggle because you’ve hung your hat on those guys. But they’re very talented, they’re a typical Sul Ross team that’s very athletic with guys that make plays in space.”
The Lobos enter the contest averaging 17 points and 280 yards — 169 passing and 111 rushing — per game with 13 turnovers.
Fabian Baeza has completed a team-high 94 of 175 passes for 797 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions, and is one of five Lobos to have attempted a pass this season. Leading rushing include Williton Grear (444 yards, 1 TD) and Ozias Wright (134 yards, 2 TDs), while primary receiving threats are Byron Jones (27-181, 2 TDs), Marcus Montez (17-170, 2 TDs), De’Andre Bergen (15-115), Keondre Strong (14-149, TD) and Jeremy Schilhab (11-104).
“They have a junior playing quarterback, and two running backs that are very dynamic and can be play makers,” Harris said. “They take what you give them. If you give them a hitch, they take a hitch and will count that as a running play and gain 4 or 5 yards on that. They wait for you to mess up and not line up right.”
Defensively, Sul Ross allows 49 points and 509 yards — 310 through the air and 199 on the ground — with nine takeaways.
Leading tacklers include Levah Terry (44 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack), Jacques Wisner (42 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 1 sack, 2 FRs), Fentrese Milligan (35 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks), James Parker (31 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 sack) and Ronin Williams (30 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack).
“Defensively they’re anchored by their defensive line,” Harris said. “One of their defensive ends, I don’t know if anybody’s blocked him yet and they’ve played Mary Hardin-Baylor. They’re really good up front, their secondary is a little bit younger on the back end so they’re going to try and keep things in front of them and not give up the big play.
“We have to be able to exploit their weaknesses, get the ball in our play makers’ hands and then be able to run after the catch. If we’re able to be successful and win this ball game I think you’re going to see a big number in terms of yards after the catch. We have to be able to run the football and attack those guys up front, but then when we have opportunities to throw and catch the ball we have to not just make a catch, but make it a 15 or 20 yard catch.”
Howard Payne is averaging 17 points and 241 yards — 174 passing and 67 rushing — per outing, with 12 turnovers.
Quarterback Gage McClanahan has connected on 87 of 157 passes for 1,044 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Leading receivers include DunTayviun Gross (30-309, 3 TDs), Jordan Bryant (19-227, 2 TDs), Thomas Williams (10-221, 2 TDs), Kadirion Latson (10-71) and Tariq Gray (9-134). Top ground gainers are Latson (282 yards, 1 TD) and Brett Martinez (146 yards).
On the defensive end, HPU surrenders 43 points and 513 yards — 279 through the air and 234 on the ground — with nine takeaways.
Austin Killgore (61 tackles, 6 or loss, 1.5 sacks), Britt Boler (45 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 2 sacks), Tevin Dawson (31 tackles. 1.5 for loss), Elijah Washington (28 tackles,2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Collin Wright (24 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks) lead the way for the Yellow Jackets defense.
Winning the turnover battle, which has been a rarity this season for the Yellow Jackets, could also play a crucial role in the outcome of Saturday’s contest.
“We have to create some turnovers defensively and be able to hold on to the ball on the offensive end,” Harris said. “That’s a cliché and everybody talks about that, but when you’re in a game with an 0-for football team they’re willing to take chances. When they take chances, that creates opportunities for us and we have to make sure we take advantage of that and not give them extra opportunities on the other end.”