SECOND ANNUAL COYOTE KICKOFF CLASSIC
Blanket vs. Abbott, 6 p.m.
Zephyr vs. Rochelle, 8 p.m.
Blum vs. Fredericksburg Heritage, 10:30 a.m.
Victory Life vs. Pine Drive Christian, 1 p.m.
Abilene Christian vs. Dell City, 4 p.m.
Richland Springs vs. Happy, 7 p.m.
RICHLAND SPRINGS — The Richland Springs Coyotes begin defense of their Six-Man Division I state championship in the 7 p.m. Saturday finale of the second annual Coyote Kickoff Classic.
After opening the festivities with a win over Abilene Christian last season, the host Coyotes will close against the Happy Cowboys, ranked No. 5 by sixmanfootball.com in its preseason poll.
Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart, who was unavailable for comment this week, stated in a preseason interview that the Coyotes are used to being the team everyone circles on its calendar. The Coyotes expect to get the best effort from the Cowboys, as well as every other team they face in their quest for a state repeat.
“We know we’ve got the bulls-eye on our chest,” Burkhart said. “We’ve been here before and we know every team wants to knock us off. Every week we’re going to stress fundamentals and try to prepare these guys for the long run.”
Saturday’s showdown will feature last season’s two most prolific six-man passers in the state. Richland Springs senior Tyler Ethridge — the 2006 state player of the year — finished with 3,038 passing yards and 54 touchdowns, while Happy senior Darius Kimberling threw for 2,491 yards and 38 scores.
On the ground, Ethridge added 1,063 yards and 26 touchdowns while Kimberling finished with 797 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. Kimberling also intercepted 10 passes on defense.
Ethridge enters the season with 175 career touchdown passes and needs just 11 more to become the all-time national record holder for all classifications.
Both the Coyotes and Cowboys have five starters each returning on both sides of the ball, so there are plenty of other weapons as each team’s disposal.
Richland Springs boasts the state’s leading receiver in Mark Williams, who tallied 1,274 yards receiving and 24 touchdowns. The state’s defensive player of the year is also a Coyote as Shelby Smith is coming off a 78-tackle season. Patrick Couch was also an all-state selection on the defensive line.
For the Cowboys, Joaquin Saenz hauled in 36 catches for 603 yards and seven touchdowns and Cole Hix chipped in 24 catches for 467 yards and seven touchdowns. Also, Marshall Elliott rushed for 132 yards and seven scores.
The Coyotes’ senior class enters Saturday’s opener having never lost at home or during the regular season. In fact, Richland Springs has experienced only two losses in 57 games under Burkhart, which gives the Coyotes a huge advantage.
Sixmanfootball.com tabbed Richland Springs as a 22-point favorite.
The rest of the Coyote Kickoff Classic schedule has been revamped in the last few days.
The Richland Springs-Happy contest will now cap a quadruple-header of action Saturday, and two more games featuring Brown County schools will take place Friday.
The Blanket Tigers will open the Classic against the Abbott Panthers at 6 p.m. Friday, while the Zephyr Bulldogs’ game against the Rochelle Hornets was moved to Richland Springs and is slated to start at 8 p.m.
The addition of the Zephyr-Rochelle game bumped the start time of the Blum-Fredericksburg Heritage game back to 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Brownwood’s Victory Life Academy will play its first-ever game against Dickinson’s Pine Drive Christian at 1 p.m., followed by Dell City and Abilene Christian squaring off at 4 p.m.
The Classic was slated to start today, but the Cherokee-Arlington St. Alban’s game was cancelled after St. Alban’s discontinued its football program.