The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets shaved a 21-point deficit to a touchdown before eventually falling to Texas Lutheran by a 27-14 count last week, their fourth straight defeat. Third-year head coach Braxton Harris' squad returns to the road at 2 p.m. Saturday as they attempt to halt their skid against the East Texas Baptist Tigers in American Southwest Conference action.
Though the Yellow Jackets (2-4, 1-4) didn't come away with the result they wanted against TLU, Harris found positives for Howard Payne to build upon going forward
“Our goal here is to win football games, not to play them close,” Harris said. “The goal is to win and we didn't achieve that goal so we're obviously disappointed, but there's a lot of positives you can pull from the game and see growth. One of the key things when you're trying to build a program is you have to see growth where growth is.
“A couple of things that stood out to me is our team was down 14 points in the first quarter and we came back and had opportunities to win it in the fourth quarter. If you look at our history that hasn't always been the case. I really thought our team came together and continued to fight against a really good football team that's going to be competing for a playoff spot. We had to win the fourth quarter, and we actually won the second half, we outscored them 14-13 in the second half. You take away a couple of big plays you're right there.”
Among the biggest negatives from last week, Harris said, were self-inflicted wounds.
“That was probably the hardest our kids have played, but we just can't shoot ourselves in the foot,” Harris said. “We had eight pre-snap or post-play penalties that because of those resulted in two touchdowns for them and four punts by our offense. Mistakes we made cost us the game. We feel like two weeks in a row we beat ourselves so we have to correct those.”
East Texas Baptist (3-3, 3-2) is coming off a narrow 21-19 victory over winless McMurry, but the Yellow Jackets are not taking the Tigers lightly.
“ETBU is very explosive offensively, their senior quarterback is one of the best in the conference,” Harris said. “They use really wide splits to exploit one-on-one matchups, so first off defensively we have to be able to tackle well and we have to be able to keep the ball in front for us. If we can eliminate their explosive plays that's going to give us an opportunity to win.”
ETBU enters the game averaging 27 points and 383 yards — 252 passing and 131 rushing — per game, with 10 turnovers.
Quarterback Brian Baca has completed 124 of 203 passes for 1,502 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Leading receivers include Jalen Blanton (27-412, 5 TDs), Davion Carter (24-302, 2 TDs), Tariq Gray (20-221, TD), Samarick Paul (14-216, 3 TDs) and Jeremiah Robertson (14-132). Robertson also leads the ground attack with 473 yards and seven touchdowns, with assistance from Justin Ward (160 yards, TD) and Keshoyn Alexander (119 yards, TD).
The Howard Payne defense is giving up 42 points and 481 yards — 270 passing and 211 rushing — with just five takeaways.
Leading the charge are Austin Killgore (48 tackles 3 for loss), Britt Boler (42 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 1 sack), Zeno Barnum (32 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), Connor Day (28 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions), Dylan Zeno (28 tackles), James Jakubowski (21 tackles, 4 for loss, 2.5 sacks), Brady Wade (18 tackles, 1 for loss), and Jarret Brown (15 tackles, 1 for loss).
On the flip side of the ball, the Yellow Jackets are generating 27 points and 361 yards — 219 passing and 142 rushing — per outing, with eight turnovers on the year.
Quarterback Caleb Estes is 101 for 153 through the air for 1,202 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions, while McGwire Martin is 6 of 94 for 94 yards. Primary receiving threats are DunTayviun Gross (33-313, 5 TDs), Thomas Williams (18-380, 4 TDs), Jordan Bryant (15-228, 2 TDs) and Jake Parker (15-180, TD). Top rushers include Billy Reagins (227 yards, 1 TD), Cameron Keener (204 yards, 3 TDs), Kaidrion Latson (115 yards, 1 TD), Ryan Hirt (108 yards), Shannon Warren (99 yards, 2 TDs) and Martin (55 yards, TD).
Defensively, ETBU is surrendering 28 points and 383 yards — 202 rushing and 181 passing — per outing with 12 takeaways.
Standouts include Anton Clark (54 tackles, 11 for loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT), Donovan Graham (45 tackles, 2.5 for loss), Zach Pike (36 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), James Wright (29 tackles, 5 for loss, 3.5 sacks), K.J. Kelley (27 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), and Chad Pajestka (24 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2 sacks).
“When it comes to their defense, we're excited because there's some familiarity with what our offense has seen from our defense,” Harris said. “They're not going to move people around or blitz them around so we have to be able to make plays when plays come to us. We have to be able to run the ball consistently but we also have to be able to put it in our playmakers' hands on the perimeter and let them go make plays.”
As for the keys to coming away with the win, Harris said, “We have to be able to win the first downs and we have to win the explosive plays and turnovers. Our offense did a good job holding on to the ball this past week, but defensively we have to be able to create some turnovers. Right now we feel like we have a very talented football team, but to make it a good football team we have to choose do the right things and choose to make the right choices consistently.”
Health-wise, Harris reported the Yellow Jackets are as healthy as they've been all season. “We're getting some guys back and that's going to be a key piece to the puzzle coming down this stretch,” he said.