The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets jumped out to a quick two-touchdown advantage over Texas Lutheran last week but were unable to hang on, and Saturday first-year head coach Braxton Harris’ squad hits the road for the final time in 2017 still searching for win No. 2.
The Yellow Jackets (1-7, 1-6) clash with ASC newcomer Southwestern (4-4, 4-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday, as the Pirates have in five short years become what Harris hopes to see out of HPU in the not too distant future.
“They’ve done a really good job building a program,” Harris said. “I’m very familiar with Southwestern. We played them the last four years when I was at TLU. They’re competitive in the American Southwest Conference, and in year five that’s pretty impressive after starting from scratch. What that shows us is it can be done if you do things the right way. Their staff and university are absolutely committed to doing it the right way and finding the kids that fit Southwestern.
“That’s similar to what we’re trying to build here, trying to find young men that fit Howard Payne University and Yellow Jacket football. It takes a special kid to find those fits, but then that kid is committed to something, he’s believing something. We have a core group in our locker room and we believe in those guys. They’re guys we can continue to build this program with and help us continue to push forward. We also have a great group of seniors that have also believed in what we’re doing and bought into it. For them, it didn’t work out as far as seeing as many benefits as they would have liked, but I know they have a lot invested here and because of that this will always be their program.”
The last time the Yellow Jackets scored multiple touchdowns prior to the opposition was their 45-37 victory over Belhaven earlier this season. HPU didn’t have the same fortune last week as TLU rallied for a 28-14 halftime lead. Then, after the Yellow Jackets scored on their first snap of the second half, the Bulldogs answered with the final 35 points.
“Something we really emphasized last week was being able to start fast, and that’s not something we’ve done very well the last few weeks and got ourselves in some holes,” Harris said. “It was good to see our kids respond to that challenge. We have to continue to put ourselves in position so that we can learn how to respond in those spots.
“But we didn’t handle our emotions very well, and didn’t handle the highs and lows of a football game very well. We have to keep putting ourselves in that position so we can reset, both physically and mentally, and calm our emotions and carry on with what the task is.”
Southwestern is coming off a 21-7 loss to No. 5 Hardin-Simmons last week, but the Pirates defeated Belhaven, 60-21, and Sul Ross, 29-27, in the two games prior.
The Pirates are averaging 30 points and 465 yards — 264 rushing and 191 passing — with 14 turnovers.
Southwestern dual threat quarterback Frederick Hover has completed 98 of 176 passes for 1,422 yards with 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions, while rushing for a team-best 778 yards and 10 more scores. Other threats out of the backfield include Elijah Smith (481 yards, 3 TD), David Brandenburg (299 yards, TD) and Devin Shaw (269 yards, TD). Leading receivers include Bradenburg (22-156, TD), Landry Bray (21-398, 3 TDs), Jaxon Borowski (18-333, 3 TDs), A.J. Daniels (13-264, 4 TDs) and Smith (12-127).
Howard Payne counters with a defense that allows 54 points and 513 yards — 302 passing and 211 rushing — on average, with 11 takeaways.
Standouts include Tevin Dawson (55 tackles, 3.5 for loss, one sack, one interception), Austin Kilgore (51 tackles, 5.5 for loss, one sack), Jake Wright (52 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks), Colton Dickerson (36 tackles, 2.5 for loss), Patrick Hunt (25 tackles, three interception, one fumble recovery) and Brady Wade (20 tackles, six for loss, 3.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries).
“Offensively, Southwestern has a good quarterback that’s their leading rusher and leading passer,” Harris said. “He runs the option, so any time you play against an option football team your defense has to do its job really well. We have to be a more physically tough team, especially in the trenches. That’s going to be a matchup for us that we feel like we’re going to have an opportunity to win. Then it comes back to being able to control the quarterback. Last week we had a very similar quarterback and we did a great job in stopping him from running the football. If we can force this guy to be able to throw the football, that will work better to our advantage.”
On the flip side of the ball, the Yellow Jackets are generating 18 points and 290 yards — 189 rushing and 101 passing — per outing, with 17 turnovers.
Running back Hunter Batten has been the most consistent contributor on the HPU offense, rushing for 750 yards and six touchdowns. Other weapons in the backfield include Brett Martinez (245 yards, 2 TDs), LeMarcus Harmon (118 yards, TD) and Kaidrion Laston (102 yards, 2 TDs). Quarterback Mitchell Jennings has connected on 38 of 105 pass attempts for 510 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions, while leading receivers include Eric Haverstock (21-166), Laston (19-101), Edwin Godfrey (10-274, 4 TDs), Justin Barrera (6-15), Chase Eisenmann (4-34) and Jordan Lewis (4-30).
The Southwestern defense gives up 31 points and 410 yards — 292 passing and 118 rushing — per game, with 12 takeaways.
Leading tacklers include Hayden Smith (45 tackles, four for loss, two sacks, one interception), Josiah Minnifield (45 tackles, one for loss, one interception), Joshua Scoggin (45 tackles, 3.5 for loss 1.5 sacks), Ben Brockman (42 tackles, 7.5 for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery) and Christopher Crawford (41 tackles, 3.5 for loss, one interception).
“Defensively, they’re very different in their schemes,” Harris said. “They’ll play a lot of cover zero and put eight guys in the box. We have to be able to convert those opportunities on the perimeter and be able to threaten them vertically with some man-beater routes. We also have to be able to run the football at the time when we need to run it. Our offensive line has to move their guys off the ball. We have to be more physical and that’s going to be the key to the ball game. If we win enough one-on-one matchups, that’ll give us an opportunity to win the ball game.”
Harris added that the Yellow Jackets will attempt to add a few more “wrinkles” on both sides of the ball over the final two weeks in an attempt to secure another victory.
“I want to see us continue to play hard and continue to get better at executing our offense and defense,” Harris said. “We’re trying to throw in some wrinkles so teams don’t know exactly what they’re getting. It’s a little more on our kids and their thought process. But to continue to develop our kids, we have to continue to develop our offense and defense. We have to continue to challenge them physically and mentally, and the mental challenge I’d like to see is our kids start off like they did last week, give us those opportunities again this week, and this time take advantage of them.
“These last two ball games I feel like are games we can compete in and play in. Getting a win out of these last two would a big difference in the course of our season for sure.”