RICHLAND SPRINGS — The two-time defending Class A Division II state champion Richland Springs Coyotes, seeking their ninth state championship overall, find themselves in the uncommon role of underdog as the second round of the playoffs arrive.
The No. 4 Coyotes (10-1) will square off with the No. 2 Milford Bulldogs (11-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Class A Division II Region IV semifinals. The website sixmanfootball.com lists Richland Springs as a 5-point underdog in the contest.
“I’ve never seen a team win or lose based on what other people’s opinions are,” said Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart, who has guided the Coyotes to a 194-9 record in 15 seasons. “Those things don’t matter, what matters is which team shows up Friday night. That’s the big key to us. We try to focus on doing what we have to do to win the ball game. It’s going to come down to how we play and how we perform.”
Richland Springs is coming off a 70-6 bi-district victory over Morgan, but played the game without spread back Walker Tippie, the reigning state player of the year, who was out with a knee injury. Tippie’s status for the Milford game was uncertain earlier in the week.
“Walker’s banged up unfortunately, but we haven’t completely ruled him out yet,” Burkhart said. “We’ll see how things go and probably make a decision late Thursday afternoon. We’ve had a lot of kids step up and we’ve told them to be ready when your name is called because you never know what can happen. We’ve been playing a lot of kids all year and we just try and match up against the personnel each week.”
Milford, meanwhile, rolled to a 56-8 victory over Buckholts in the first round. The Bulldogs have played one of the toughest schedules in the state with victories over Bryson (51-50), Jonesboro (71-44), Gholson (51-0), Wylie Prep (56-8), Aquilla (64-28), Crowell (64-18), Garden City (66-61), Trinidad (48-0), Oakwood (118-71) and Mount Calm (by forfeit).
The Bulldogs enter the contest averaging 58 points and 377 yards — 196 passing and 181 rushing — per game, while giving up 26 points on average.
Spread back Taron Smith has thrown for 1,575 yards and 36 touchdowns while rushing for 1,295 yards and 19 scores to lead the charge for the Bulldogs.
“They have a lot of kids back including Taron Smith, who is one of the best spread backs in the state,” Burkhart said, “but they have a lot of people to go with him. They have a lot of good receivers and do a lot of good things offensively. They’re going to try and spread us out and make us cover a lot of field, so our open field tackling has to be exceptional this week.”
Leading receivers for Milford include Ricky Pendleton (26-494, 9 TDs), Jasean Brooks (21-343, 11 TDs), Corbin Schrotke (17-212, TD), James McIntyre (16-345, 10 TDs), Mike Wilson (9-187, 5 TDs), Markavion Thompson (7-176, 4 TDs) and Smith (7-119, 4 TDs). Schrotke has also passed for 373 yards and five scores, while McIntyre has chipped in 321 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Richland Springs enters the contest averaging 65 points and 324 yards — 229 rushing and 95 passing — per game, with five turnovers, while yielding 29 points and 193 yards — 94 on the ground and 99 through the air — with 24 takeaways.
The ground game is anchored by Hutton Lusty (817 yards, 18 TDs), Tippie (691 yards, 19 TDs), Jordan Burkhart (441 yards, 7 TDs) and Cameron Parham (153 yards, 3 TDs).
Through the air, Burkhart has completed 28 of 45 passes for 616 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, while Tippie has connected on 14 of 17 attempts for 318 with eight scoring strikes.
Leading receivers include Parham (11-292, 5 TDs), Lusty (7-212, 3 TDs), Linden Brown (4-120, 2 TDs), Landon Burkhart (5087, 4 TDs) and Zach Brown (6-85, 2 TDs).
Defensive standouts for the Coyotes include Lusty (81 tackles, 17.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks), Parham (54 tackles, 20 for loss, five sacks, one interception), Tippie (46 tackles, six for loss, two sacks, four interceptions) and Jordan Burkhart (34 tackles, three interceptions).
As for the keys to coming away with a victory, Burkhart said, “It’s the same thing for every team in the state, we have to block well and execute on offense. Defensively we have to get some stops and not let Smith loose. He has a great arm and does a good job with his legs. We have to make them make mistakes, that’ll be big, and we have to take advantage of any opportunities they give us.”
The winner will face either Iredell (9-2) or Oakwood (7-4) in the Class A Division II Region IV championship game next weekend.