RICHLAND SPRINGS — The No. 2 Richland Springs Coyotes have hardly broken a sweat thus far in defense of their Six-Man Division I state championship. But the level of competition should begin to significantly increase now that the postseason has arrived.

The Coyotes (9-0) carry a 23-game win streak into Friday’s Region IV first-round rematch against the Lometa Hornets (6-4), one of the few teams to put a scare into Richland Springs the past two seasons.

Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at San Saba’s Rogan Field.

Lometa, the District 16 runner-up, trailed District 15 champion Richland Springs, 8-0, at halftime and forced the Coyotes to play an entire game for the first time last year. In what was an eventual 40-16 victory for Richland Springs, the Coyotes played without record-setting spread back Tyler Ethridge in the first half as he was nursing a sliced throwing hand.

With Ethridge healthy and the Coyotes having a familiarity with Lometa due to facing them last season, Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart has a much better inclination of what to expect.

“We’re familiar with them as far as the kids they have returning,” Burkhart said. “They’ve improved a tremendous amount. Their blocking is exceptional, their quarterback play actions very well and they have a nice little short passing game that’s been very effective. They’ve got some nice-sized kids that can really move you and they’re well coached. Coach (Wendell) Bradley does a good job with them.”

Most prognosticators feel the only team that can slow down Richland Springs is the Coyotes themselves. With the Coyotes near full strength health-wise, they are the odds-on favorite to capture a third state title in four seasons.

“We were a little banged up last week but we’re starting to heal,” Burkhart said. “We feel that the good Lord has blessed us as we’re heading into our third season, but we also know this is a do or die situation. If we lose, we go home.”

Lometa enters Friday’s game averaging 39.7 points per game, while giving up 34.8 points per contest. The Hornets have split their last six decisions, defeating Cherokee (40-6), Buckholts (64-18) and Bynum (61-44), while falling to No. 3 Calvert (56-6), Division II No. 3 Woodson (56-15) and No. 11 May (46-8).

Richland Springs, meanwhile, hasn’t tasted defeat since the 2005 state semifinals. The Coyotes are averaging 69.3 points per game, while giving up just 8.4 points. In their last six contests, the Coyotes have outscored their foes 412-22.

Richland Springs is coming off another rare test — for a half at least — in last week’s 60-14 win over Rochelle. The Coyotes clung to a 16-6 halftime lead, but scored 32 points in the third period to ice the game.

“Rochelle came out and played ball and showed some weaknesses on our part and that was a great thing,” Burkhart said. “Saturday morning we watched the film and a lot of the things that happened we did to ourselves. We’ve gone back to the fundamentals trying to correct it. Coach (Offensive coordinator Harley) Ethridge has put together a great game plan and we’re going to work on some of the things they hurt us with. We feel like we’ll be able to take advantage of those if we see them again.”

Tyler Ethridge had one of his more dominant performances of the season against Rochelle as he rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 10-of-13 passes for 272 yards with three more scores. The three scoring tosses pushed his record career total to 211.

Unofficially this season, Ethridge has completed 65-of-84 passes for 1,439 yards with 36 touchdowns.

Mark Williams — Ethridge’s favorite target — caught all three of his scoring tosses last week, which covered 59, 50 and 24 yards. Williams finished with five receptions for 188 yards.

To counter Richland Springs’ explosive offense, Burkhart believes Lometa will attempt to play keep away with its offense.

“We feel like they are going to ball control us and try and keep the ball out of our hands,” Burkhart said. “We’re going to have to work real hard on defense to stop them and create turnovers to put the ball in our hands.”

The Hornets are led offensively by running backs James Logsdon and Joe Michael Rivera, along with ends Anthony Torres, Toby Davis and Brandon Fausion.

As for the keys to avoiding an upset, not turning the ball over was at the top of Burkhart’s list.

“We can’t have any turnovers and we have to get better blocking,” Burkhart said. “Offensively, we can’t be looking at the scoreboard and be antsy and feel like we have to score real fast. We have to take the little things where we can and we’ll be okay.

“Our defense also has to be better on the spread rush, we struggled with that last week. We can’t let them push us around across the front line. We have to read and react.”

Friday’s winner will advance to face District 13 champion May (9-1) next week.