With a five-game losing streak now in the past, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets have set their sights on beginning their second win streak of the season and continuing to build positive momentum through the stretch run of the 2019 football campaign.
The Yellow Jackets, who upended Sul Ross, 31-20, last week for their first homecoming victory since 2012, take to the road Saturday to tangle with the American Southwest Conference football rival Southwestern Pirates.
Kickoff between the Yellow Jackets (3-5, 2-5) and Pirates (4-4, 3-4) is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday in Georgetown.
“This past win was a really big win for our program, to be able to get to three wins and two conference wins,” said HPU third-year head coach Braxton Harris. “We had a stretch there where we lost so many ball games by close scores. To show their resiliency, everybody got to see that in the flesh. To see them continue to work the process after losses, we've shown that we can do that and we responded this past week with a win over Sul Ross. Now after a win can we continue to respond and do this again? This gives us a chance to get to four wins, and four wins and three conference wins for us would be huge. It's a big ball game for us, no question about it, and we want to keep pushing forward.”
Looking back at last week's win over Sul Ross, the Yellow Jackets and Lobos were tied at 10 at halftime, though HPU could have been in front if not for a blocked 27-yard field goal and a fumble inside the Sul Ross 10. In the second half, the Yellow Jackets exploded with a 21-point third quarter, scoring on their first three drives.
“We scored 21 points in the third quarter and they scored three and any time you can have that big a swing in a football game that's a big deal,” Harris said. “Offensively we did some good things and were able to move the football, but probably the most impressive thing was the last 4:53 of the game when our offense got the ball and we were able to hold on to it the whole time. That's a big step in the right direction.”
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets allowed a season-low 20 points and well under 300 yards of total offense.
“I thought our kids played really well, really hard,” Harris said. “We gave up 260 or so yards of offense and 55 came on one play, a missed tackle by a freshman in space and those things happen. But if you take away those 55 you give up around 210 yards of offense and that's a good day at the office. I'm excited about the progress.”
Looking ahead to Southwestern, the Pirates are coming off a 49-23 loss to East Texas Baptist last week after slipping past winless McMurry, 29-25, the week prior at home — where SU owns just a 1-3 record. Still, Harris and company expect Southwestern to present a formidable challenge.
“I've been around Southwestern from my time at TLU and the thing that's true about Southwestern is every single year those kids play hard,” Harris said. “They play their tails off and they're smart kids.”
Southwestern enters the game averaging 24 points and 342 yards — 230 rushing and 112 passing — per outing.
The Pirates have used four quarterbacks this season and seven different players have thrown at least one pass. Pirates with the most time behind center are Coleman Kerr (27 of 55 for 470 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) and Austin Emery (11 of 28 for 206 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs). Top rushers include Elijah Smith (384 yards, 4 TDs), Landry Gilpin (216 yards, 2 TDs) and Austin Castilleja (205 yards, TD). Leading receivers are David Brandenburg (24-412, 4 TDs), Anfernee Stephens (6-124, 2 TDs), Castilleja (6-79) and Joey Robinson (4-81).
“Offensively, they're a spread option team,” Harris said. “They're run some double slot, some single slot and then they'll get in one back in the backfield, but you have to stop the option and the misdirection. They'll try and get you in bad positions and try and use your athleticism against you in places so we have to make sure we don't do those things. You have to play assignment football and not get your eyes in the wrong place because if you do that's when they're going to take advantage of you.”
Howard Payne counters with a defense that yields 39 points and 459 yards — 249 passing and 210 rushing — per game, with eight takeaways.
Standouts include Austin Killgore (65 tackles, 4.5 for loss), Britt Boler (50 tackles. 4 for loss, 1 sack), Zeno Barnum (44 tackles, 1 FR), James Jakubowski (35 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks), Connor Day (31 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1 sack, 2 INTs), Dylan Zeno (31 tackles), Brady Wade (27 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR), and Jarret Brown (21 tackles, 1 INT).
“We have a lot to prove on defense,” Harris said. “The last two years we've given up 600 yards of offense to these guys. We have to prove we're not that team anymore and we can go play with this team. This is a big game for us against a middle of a pack team in the conference and we need to win against teams like that.”
Southwestern's defense is giving up 23 points and 346 yards – 169 rushing and 177 passing — per outing.
Leading the charge are Josiah Minnifield (43 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 FR), Garrett Womack (28 tackles, 12 for loss, 7.5 sacks), Jackson Reece (37 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1 INT), Christopher Crawford (35 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR), and Nicholas Smith (35 tackles, 4 for loss, 1.5 sacks).
“Defensively they're going to do everything they can to stop the run,” Harris said. “They're going to put them all in the box and force you to throw the football. We think that's an advantage we have, throwing the football, with our skill players out on the perimeter making plays in space and making them consistently.”
HPU's offense produces 28 points and 369 yards — 226 passing and 143 rushing — per game with 10 turnovers.
The Yellow Jackets are continuing to rotate quarterbacks Caleb Estes (105 of 161 passes for 1,261 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions) and McGwire Martin (35 of 52 for 527 yards with three touchdowns;213 rushing yards, TD), while also employing a running back by committee with Billy Reagins (302 yards, 6 TDs), Cameron Keener (219 yards, 3 TDs), Kaidiron Latson (138 yards, 2 TDs), and Shannon Warren (121 yards, 2 TDs). Top receiving threats include DunTayviun Gross (41-445, 6 TDs), Jake Parker (24-204, 2 TDs), Thomas Williams (22-489, 5 TDs), Jordan Bryant (17-233, 2 TDs) and Eric Haverstock (13-118, TD).
“We have to take care of the football and get first downs,” Harris said. “Last week we only had 16 first downs and you usually don't win games in this conference unless you get 20 first downs. For us, we have to continue to get first downs more consistently to go along with the explosive plays. We love the explosive plays but we also have to be able to control the football game a little bit more.”