RICHLAND SPRINGS — Rarely during their 42-game win streak — and 64 consecutive home victories — have the No. 1 Richland Springs Coyotes received the challenge presented to them Friday night.
Down 28-24 at halftime, the two-time defending Six-Man Division II state champion and top-ranked Coyotes rallied to end the season of the No. 5 Jonesboro Eagles for the second year in a row, 64-48, in the Region IV semifinals.
“We knew we were going to be tested tonight,” said Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart, who improved his record to 132-5 with the Coyotes. “We were outmanned and outsized, we just had to hang on and try and make tackles. It all came back down to tackling, blocking and executing on offense.”
With the victory, the Coyotes (12-0) — who are chasing a third consecutive state crown and state record sixth overall in the six-man football ranks — will face either No. 2 Milford (11-0) or Cherokee (6-4), who square at 7:30 p.m. in Hico, in the third round next week.
“It was a tough week of coaching,” Burkhart said. “We spent a lot of time watching film and the kids did, too. But we give all the glory to God. It’s a great feeling to move on to the next round.”
The Coyotes finished with 540 yards of total offense, led by Chance Bush’s 254 rushing yards and four touchdowns, along with 214 passing yards and four scoring tosses.
Defensively, Richland Springs surrendered 470 yards — including 349 on the ground — and seven touchdowns to a Jonesboro (9-3) squad that scored 116 points in its first-round victory over Trinidad a week ago.
The Coyotes also converted all eight of their two-point kicks — off the foot of Trevor Tinney — while Jonesboro made just two, which provided Richland Springs an additional bit of padding to a slim lead throughout the contest.
Richland Springs trailed as late as the 6:18 mark of the third period, down 34-32 after a 60-yard pass from Tyler Wise to Gerritt Buster. The Coyotes responded with 46-yard scoring drive that took only four plays as a 7-yard touchdown run by Bush put the reigning state champs in front for good, 40-34.
An illegal block hindered Jonesboro’s ensuing drive as the Eagles punted the ball away, which the Coyotes turned into an eight-play, 43-yard march that ended with a 15-yard scoring toss from Bush to Chris Torres. The touchdown increased the lead to 48-34 with 1:53 left in the third.
Jonesboro closed the gap to 48-42 on a 19-yard touchdown run by Thai Robuck with 9:11 remaining, but Richland Springs fired back two snaps later with a 60-yard catch and run by Thomas Fowler, who picked up a key block from Ty Mann down field en route to extending the Coyotes’ lead to 56-42 with 8:49 remaining.
Again the Eagles crept within one score at 56-48 with 7:02 left following a 2-yard run by Buster. But the Coyotes journeyed 50 yards in six plays as Bush hooked up with Patrick Phillips on their second touchdown connection of the day, a 7-yard pass that pushed the lead to 64-48 with 4:10 to go.
The next Jonesboro drive ended with an incomplete fourth-down pass on Richland Springs’ 23 with 2:49 left, while the Eagles’ last gasp at a final score came up 1 yard shy with five seconds remaining on the clock.
“We just made some adjustments and told them we had to tackle,” Burkhart said of the second-half improvement. “The defensive game plan was there, the offensive game plan was there, we were just shooting ourselves in the foot by not tackling and missing blocks. But our kids kept fighting and never gave up, and I’m proud of the job they did tonight.”