SHERMAN — The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets opened a football season with a victory for the first time since 2014, as quarterback Caleb Estes' 370-yard, six-touchdown performance sparked a 48-34 win over the Austin College Kangaroos Saturday afternoon.
Estes, a sophomore from Rockwall making his first start, connected on 26 of 33 passes for 318 yards and five scoring tosses — including four in the first half — and rushed for an additional 52 yards and another touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets generated 524 total yards — 318 through the air and 206 on the ground — and did not commit a turnover. A year ago, Howard Payne gave the ball away 26 times and averaged just 16.5 points and 272 yards per game.
Ten Yellow Jackets caught at least one pass, led by Jordan Bryant's six grabs for 70 yards and a trip to the end zone. DunTayviun Gross added five catches for 64 yards and a score, Thomas Williams caught four passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns and Jake Parker finished with two catches for 48 yards, including a touchdown.
On the ground, Billy Reagins rushed for a team-high 78 yards followed by 63 yards and a touchdown from Kaidrion Latson and Estes' 52-yard output.
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets allowed 420 yards – 265 passing and 155 rushing – but recorded seven tackles for loss, one sack by Connor Day and the game's only takeaway, an interception by Corey Perkins.
Linebacker Austin Killgore led Howard Payne with nine tackles followed by cornerback Jarrett Brown with eight and six apiece from ends Brady Wade and James Jakubowski.
Howard Payne never trailed and owned a 34-13 lead at halftime, which blossomed to 41-13 early in the third period. The 14-point margin of victory matched HPU's largest since Sept. 14, 2013 — a 41-27 home triumph over Southwestern Assemblies of God.
HPU scored first at the 10:37 mark of the first period on a 60-yard scoring toss from Estes to Williams. Austin College drew even at 7 just 35 seconds later on a 10-yard run by Evan Powell.
The Yellow Jackets regained a 13-7 edge at the 1:06 mark of the first on a 4-yard run by Latson, capping a 30-yard drive that was set up by a 23-yard punt. Again the Kangaroos drew even at 13 on another Powell run, this one covering 26 yards with 12:11 left in the first half.
Howard Payne then reeled off four consecutive touchdowns to seize control of the contest — a 39-yard pass from Estes to Parker at 9:00 of the second; a 38-yard scoring toss from Estes to Bryant at the 2:59 mark; a 13-yard strike from Estes to Williams with four seconds left in the first half; and Estes' 4-yard scoring scamper at the 11:11 juncture of the third period.
Austin College closed to within two touchdowns, 41-27, with 14:44 left following a 2-yard touchdown run by Colt Collins and a 49-yard scoring strike from Collins to Maika Brinkerho.
But the Yellow Jackets iced the victory with 12:22 left as Gross hauled in a 31-yard touchdown reception from Estes, re-establishing a three-touchdown cushion at 48-27.
The last time the Yellow Jackets won a season opener, they went on to a 3-0 start but finished with a 4-6 overall record. Howard Payne will target a second straight victory in their ASC opener at McMurry at 1 p.m. Saturday. McMurry (0-1) began its year with a 41-10 loss to Trinity this past Thursday.