ABILENE, Texas – McMurry Football carried a 17-14 lead into the locker rooms Saturday afternoon, but the visiting Howard Payne Yellow Jackets would find their rhythm in the second half to spoil McMurry’s home opener, 56-37, at Wilford Moore Stadium.
The contest served as both team’s American Southwest Conference opener.
McMurry (0-2, 0-1) went toe-to-toe with Howard Payne’s high-octane passing attack, finishing with 313 passing yards. Quarterback Xavier Alexander finished 13-for-31 for 313 yards and three passing touchdowns.
However, the Yellow Jackets (2-0, 1-0) came into the contest with the 21st ranked offense in the nation, throwing for 388 yards while adding 252 on the ground in a balanced attack. Of their 640 yards, 424 came in the second half.
Both teams traded punts to open the game, but McMurry’s second possession would send the home crowd into a frenzy. Alexander found freshman running back Dee Robinson down the sideline on a short pass, who took it 83 yards for a touchdown. A failed extra point left McMurry ahead, 6-0.
HPU scored on the next possession, as reigning-ASC Player of the Week Caleb Estes snuck into the end zone on third and goal from one yard out. An extra point gave HPU the 7-6 edge midway through the first quarter.
Within the first minute of the second quarter, McMurry regained the lead with a Jared Mendoza field goal from 22 yards out, capping off a seven-play, 62-yard drive.
After Estes threw the first of his five touchdowns the ensuing drive to regain the lead, McMurry came right back with a 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive. A fourth down roughing the passer penalty allowed McMurry to continue its drive, where Alexander connected with Moise Fokomla from five yards out to make it 17-14 War Hawks.
HPU scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to take the lead and pull ahead, 35-17. McMurry began a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, pulling within two possessions on senior transfer Leo Brownfield Jr.’s four-yard touchdown run.
A couple of big, fourth-quarter plays allowed the War Hawks to remain on the verge, but would not be enough to match HPU’s offense. Alexander found Eriel Dorsey for an 80-yard score with 8:29 to go, but a quick 23-yard run by HPU’s Billy Reagins canceled out the touchdown.
Then, sophomore Kameron Session returned a 93-yard kick for a score one minute later, but it was too late as Estes closed the door with his fifth touchdown pass with 3:41 remaining.
Dorsey led the McMurry receivers with 147 yards on four catches, while Dee Robinson served as the all-purpose back with 12 carries for 56 yards and five receptions for 90 yards.
For HPU, DunTayviun Gross had seven catches for 148 yards and two scores to lead the offense. Reagins had 12 carries for 114 yards.
McMurry will look to get back on track next week with another storied rival coming to Abilene, as Sul Ross State comes to town Sept. 21 at 2 p.m. Next week’s game will be Military Appreciation Day.