The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets have been unable to crack the win column through their first six games this season, and the schedule is about to get considerably more difficult.

The Yellow Jackets’ closing stretch of four games features teams with a combined 16-8 overall mark and 12-5 record in American Southwest Conference action.

Howard Payne (0-6, 0-4) will visit the Hardin-Simmons Cowboys (3-3, 3-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday, then host Louisiana College (2-4, 1-3) for homecoming on Oct. 26. The Yellow Jackets then venture to Mississippi College (5-1, 3-1) on Nov. 3 and host No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (6-0, 5-0) on Nov. 10 to wrap up the season.

With the struggles the Yellow Jackets have experienced in all three phases of the game this year, avoiding a winless season and a potential 11-game losing streak overall will be a tall order. However, facing the elite programs in the conference may be the spark the Yellow Jackets need to turn around their fortunes. What’s clear, though, is that HPU must play better than it has recently — especially the way it did in last week’s 34-24 loss to McMurry — to pull off the upsets.

The Yellow Jackets turned the ball over a whopping eight times against McMurry and fell behind 31-3 midway through the third quarter. Prior to last week’s game, McMurry had been surrendering 37.7 points and 456.6 yards per game. Howard Payne netted only a field goal and 147 yards of total offense in falling behind by four touchdowns.

HPU did get into a rhythm in the fourth quarter and finished with 369 total yards and three second-half touchdowns — Jason Lovvorn passes of 20 and 8 yards to Jordan Beard and Lane Wakefield, respectively, along with a 7-yard Lovvorn run. Perhaps the Yellow Jackets can carry that offensive surge into Saturday’s showdown at Shelton Stadium.

Despite its record, Howard Payne may have its best opportunity to come away with a win over Hardin-Simmons in years. The Cowboys, who are coming off a 26-24 road win over East Texas Baptist, have allowed an uncharacteristic 41 points and 546.7 yards of total offense per game this season. HSU surrenders 351.7 yards passing and 195 yards rushing per outing, but the Cowboys have forced 16 turnovers.

Howard Payne enters the game averaging 27 points and 355.3 total yards, with 284.8 coming through the air and 70.5 coming on the ground.

Lovvorn, who threw for 500 yards and five touchdowns two weeks ago at Texas Lutheran, has completed 60-of-112 passes for 917 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

Jordan Beard (26-465, 3 TDs) and Zach Howard (26-258, TD) have been Lovvorn’s primary targets, while Justin Havard (16-206), Edward Cody (14-115, TD), Nice Sellars (9-181, 3 TDs) and Genoa Dill (8-162, 3 TDs) are each capable of breaking out and having huge games.

The Yellow Jackets accomplished a rare feat by cracking the 100-yard mark rushing last week, but HPU’s depleted stable of running backs has struggled to establish any lengthy consistency. Howard rushed for 85 yards on 13 carries last week, the best individual output of the season for an HPU running back.

Though Hardin-Simmons may be lacking on the defensive side of the ball this season, the offense is still more than capable of putting points on the board

The Cowboys are averaging 31.5 points and 422.5 yards of total offense per game and have coughed up the pigskin just nine times. That will provide a huge challenge for a Yellow Jacket defense that has surrendered 36.3 points and 355.7 yards per outing, but did create four turnovers against McMurry.

Running back Quinton Jones leads the Cowboys with 546 yards rushing and six touchdowns, while averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Through the air, quarterback Justin Feaster is 125-of-204 for 1,707 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Mychal Carrillo leads Hardin-Simmons with 41 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns, followed Travis Watson’s 25 receptions for 437 yards and two scores, and 13 catches each for a combined 363 yards and two touchdowns between Justice Baker and Jerrad Grisham.

More potential good news for the Yellow Jackets is two of Hardin-Simmons’ three losses have come at home (47-14 to Mary Hardin-Baylor and 47-21 to Wisconsin-La Crosse) and the Cowboys have allowed at least 34 points in every conference game except last week’s win at ETBU.