ABILENE — By the midway point of the second period, the only question remaining in the battle of six-man’s two reigning state champions was when Richland Springs senior Tyler Ethridge would surpass Chris Leak for most touchdown passes in a high school football career.
The record fell at the 3:58 mark of the second quarter when Ethridge hooked up with longtime favorite receiver Mark Williams on a 31-yard catch-and-run — one of five touchdowns overall for Ethridge — as the top-ranked Richland Springs Coyotes hammered Division II’s No. 1 Northside Indians, 62-16, Saturday night at Shotwell Stadium.
“It’s not up there with winning a third state championship, but it’s something I can look back on after I’m done,” said Ethridge, who now has 187 career touchdown passes after tossing three Saturday. “I’m proud of it, but it’s more of a team accomplishment than just me.”
Last season Ethridge — who helped guide the Coyotes to state championships in 2004 and 2006 — surpassed Nathan Strand of Greenville Christian for both the six-man state and national career passing touchdown marks. He also overtook current Texas Tech and former Ennis quarterback Graham Harrell later in the season as the state’s leader in career touchdown passes in any classification.
Heading into Saturday’s contest, Ethridge had thrown 184 touchdowns, which left him one behind Leak, the former Florida Gator and current Chicago Bear.
“It gives us a tremendous amount of pride knowing that Tyler broke that record,” said Coyotes head coach Jerry Burkhart. “It’s an overall accomplishment for our team and the kids who have caught the balls for him. We just give glory to God. It’s great to have a bunch of kids that strive to get better. That’s the reason for our success.”
Unofficially, Ethridge finished the night 6-of-10 through the air for 68 yards with three touchdowns — a 3-yarder to Andrew Fowler, a 6-yarder to Shelby Smith that tied the record, and the record-breaker to Williams.
“I think that was our game plan,” said Ethridge of throwing the record-breaking pass to Williams. “That’s what I wanted to do and he deserved it. He made it look easy, too. He’s pretty much been my go-to guy. There’s been other guys, but he’s the first target that I look for.”
Williams finished with four catches for 59 yards and also intercepted a pair of passes, including a 32-yarder he returned for a touchdown that ended the game on the first snap of the second half.
Northside (3-1) — seized the momentum early, forcing a pair of Richland Springs (3-0) turnovers on its first three snaps from scrimmage. The second — a Colby White interception of Ethridge’s first pass attempt — set up a six-play, 39-yard scoring drive that gave the Indians their only lead.
White connected with Zack Agnew on a 14-yard scoring strike with 5:29 left in the opening period, and Landry Freeling’s kick gave the Indians an 8-0 advantage.
“We came out a little flat. The big atmosphere gave us a little shock,” Burkhart said. “We had to settle down and refocus after we had some turnovers early. That shows a weakness on our part and we can’t have those. We told the guys to just settle down and play our game.”
Richland Springs responded with a quick three-play, 55-yard drive — all on the ground — before Ethridge scored on a 3-yard run at the 4:20 juncture. Richie Daniels nailed the first of his seven consecutive two-point kicks to even the score at 8-all.
Shelby Smith ignited the drive with back-to-back 19-yard runs. Smith finished with 124 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on just eight carries.
Williams’ first interception ended Northside’s ensuing drive, then Ethridge — who added 94 yards rushing on nine carries — ran for all 56 yards on the Coyotes’ next scoring drive, which culminated on the third play with a 34-yard touchdown. Richland Springs was up 16-8 with 17 seconds left in the first period and never looked back.
Ethridge picked off a pass on the Northside 37 to halt the Indians’ next possession, then Smith capped a five-play drive with a 10-yard scoring jaunt.
A third straight Northside drive ended abruptly due to a Richland Springs interception as Khalid Khatib picked off a pass on the first play of the drive and returned it the Indians 10.
“We mixed up some zone coverages with some man coverages and just tried to keep them off-balance,” Burkhart said. “That was the key to our interceptions. When we broke the film down, they had some tendencies that gave some stuff away in certain situations and it worked out for us.”
Two plays after Khatib’s interception, Smith scampered into the end zone from 12 yards out to increase the lead to 32-8.
A 14-yard loss to the Indian 6 due to a fourth down sack by Ethridge set up his first touchdown pass of the night. Ethridge pulled even with Leak on a 6-yard scoring strike over the middle to Smith, who galloped into the end zone as the lead grew to 40-8 with 6:33 left in the first half.
White — who rushed for a team-high 37 yards and completed 9-of-19 passes for 124 yards with three interceptions — scored Northside’s final touchdown on a 53-yard scramble at the 5:53 mark of the second period.
Again the Coyotes had an answer, moving 67 yards in just six plays as the drive culminated with Ethridge’s record-breaking pass to Williams — a short toss that Williams took down the sideline for the final 20 yards — which gave Richland Springs a 48-16 edge.
Richland Springs tacked on one final first-half touchdown as Ethridge hit Fowler with a short 3-yard scoring toss, putting the finishing touches on six-play, 26-yard drive.
Unofficially, the Coyotes — who have won 17 consecutive games overall — finished with 286 yards of total offense, while Northside picked up 176.