Free T-shirts, food and friends at the Tiger Tailgate on Saturday brought fans out early in support of Trinity football’s season opener, and the Tigers displayed their appreciation by defeating Howard Payne University almost effortlessly. The 16th-ranked Tigers posted a 56-7 win that was solid enough to push them into the 12th national spot for this week.
“This big win is a confidence booster,” said senior kicker Garrett Biel. “It’ll hopefully get the ball rolling for the rest of the season. We’ve never beaten this team by that much since I’ve been here. I think that it also says that preparation is key — we didn’t come in taking this game lightly. We prepared well, we were all focused in and we were able to secure the game in the first half pretty much.”
In just the second play of the game, the Tiger defense turned the ball over to the offense, which then capitalized with a 53-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Hagen Kattner. On the next drive, senior tight end Mason Lytal caught another touchdown for a 14-0 first quarter score.
The second quarter doubled the score for the Tigers with touchdown passes to Lytal and sophomore wide receiver Matt Kennemer, putting the Tigers in a secure 28-0 lead at halftime.
“We stopped their momentum a lot by forcing a lot of fumbles and a lot of interceptions,” Biel said. “It just gave us a lot of momentum to begin with.”
The second half of the game opened up with another quick turnover by the defense, giving the Tiger offense the ball and a quick touchdown pass to Lytal. With nine minutes left in the third quarter, senior quarterback Nyk McKissic threw his sixth touchdown of the game to Lytal — his fourth and final TD of the game.
Sophomore quarterback Mason Blaschke then came in for McKissic to run in the seventh touchdown with a minute left in the third quarter. In the final period, sophomore quarterback Robert Broyles entered the game to throw a 43-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Jordan Funches. The Yellow Jackets only stung once — a 10-yard pass with 22 seconds left in the game to finalize the score.
“The fact that we were able to execute well and do what we needed to do to win was great,” McKissic said. “The defense played outstanding as always and we just want to come up and make big plays for them.”
Defensively, the Tigers nearly shut out Howard Payne with a performance that was on par with last season’s top five-ranked squad.
“The takeaways were huge,” said assistant coach Paul Michalak. “Those were the biggest things on the defensive side. It was good seeing that early on. It’s great to see guys getting after the football like they did, every play and the credit’s to them for doing that. They’re great kids, they do everything we ask them to do.”
Senior linebacker Nick Darling and sophomore defensive backs J.P. Sanchez and Jai Boatman each had seven tackles, while Boatman recorded a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Senior defensive lineman Phillip Hiner-Leamon added two fumble recoveries and four tackles and senior linebacker Thomas Puskarich had four stops and an interception.
“The biggest contributor to the win was definitely the combination of the defense creating turnovers and fumbles and the offense being able to quickly score after we get the ball back,” Biel said. “It was a combined effort.”
Trinity’s offense supported the defense by scoring early and never turning back.
“Offensively we obviously did really well. With Nyk throwing six touchdowns and Mason Lytal getting four of those,” Michalak said. “Capitalizing on what the defense was giving them was huge along with the guys being able to see momentum swinging their way. As a team it definitely brings everybody together.”
The Tigers were on fire with record-book performances. McKissic threw for 274 yards and six touchdowns to become the second person in Trinity history to throw for more than five touchdowns in a game. Lytal grabbed five catches for 124 yards and tied the school record with four receiving touchdowns. Senior kicker Garrett Biel went 8-8 for extra points, tying the school record that he also tied last year with his eight PATs in the Rhodes game.
“Overall I think that the tempo and the attitude was great,” McKissic said. “I think the defense did a great job of creating turnovers and doing what they normally do and just playing great defense. Offensively for us, our offensive line did an outstanding job of giving us time to us time to be able to throw the ball throughout the game. So that was a positive. It was just great to see us clicking offensively and the defense doing what they normally do. I think the main thing for us is to keep getting better and we all understand that. We’re still hungry, we’re looking for the next game.”
The Tigers pick up again on the road at 6 p.m. tomorrow night at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, TX.