RICHLAND SPRINGS — The No. 1 Richland Springs Coyotes are two victories shy of accomplishing yet another team goal.
The Coyotes’ (12-0) pursuit of back-to-back Six Man Division I state championships — and a third title in four years — takes them to Hico, where they will face the No. 7 Trinidad Trojans (11-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals.
Winners of 26 straight, the Coyotes are coming off a 76-26 victory over No. 3 Calvert in which Richland Springs may have played its best ball of the season to close out the victory.
Trailing by two touchdowns in the first quarter, Richland Springs scored 70 of the final 76 points to end the game before the conclusion of the third period.
“I couldn’t compliment our kids enough,” said Coyotes head coach Jerry Burkhart, who is 67-2 in his tenure at Richland Springs. “They stepped up and realized that Calvert is a great, quality ball club and they knew we were going to have to step up and make plays if we’re going to beat those guys. The light switch came on and the kids reacted well.”
If that light switch stays on, it doesn’t bode well for Trinidad, or the winner of the other state semifinal between No. 2 Rule (12-0) and No. 5 Rankin (11-1), which will be played at 5 p.m. Saturday at San Angelo Stadium.
“I really don’t think we’ll have a problem playing at that level as long as we stay focused and prepare for each week and each opponent,” Burkhart said. “From here on out, we’re going to be facing good teams.”
Burkhart attributed his team’s physical play as the spark for the rally against Calvert.
“The physical part of the ball game had a big hand in the win,” Burkhart said. “Our kids will hit you and we’re excited about that. One of the main reasons they turned things around is we had a great game plan going in, but we had trouble early with the fundamentals of tackling, hitting hard and taking them out of their game. We wanted to try and get ahead of them and see how they would react.”
Like Calvert last week, Trinidad has done most of its damage on the ground. The Trojans feature one of the most explosive players in the state in Stacey Womack, who two weeks ago rushed for 326 yards and six touchdowns in a 48-36 win over Gordon.
“This week we’re facing a great running back, probably one of the best running backs we’ve ever faced before,” Burkhart said. “That motives us to get our jobs done, improve our technique and make sure we get our key reads right.”
While Richland Springs expects to see a heavy dose of Womack, the Coyote coaching staff anticipates Trinidad trying to make more plays through the air than normal.
“I’m expecting to see a little more of the passing game from them,” Burkhart said. “They pass the ball a little better than Calvert does.”
The Coyote offense continued to exhibit its balance as Richland Springs finished with 514 yards of total offense — 279 passing and 235 rushing — last week. And gone are the days when a team can focus on its attention solely on stopping Coyote record-setting spread back Tyler Ethridge.
Though Ethridge did pass for 192 yards and added 166 yards on the ground against Calvert, Mark Williams ran for 62 yards and Andrew Fowler chipped in 53 yards rushing. Williams also had a 43-yard completion and four catches for 48 yards, while Shelby Smith caught three passes for 92 yards. Richie Daniels chipped in two receptions for 51 yards, as well.
“We’re not a one dimensional offense,” Burkhart said. “We can run a lot of sets and multiple formations. We’re holding back a lot of things we’ve been working on all year, but we can pull them out if we need too. We’re blessed with this team in that they give us a lot of options. Tyler throws exceptionally well and a lot of receivers can catch the ball and get up field. A lot of teams just focus on Tyler and forget about the rest of the guys.”
Ethridge does lead Richland Springs in both passing and rushing with 2,047 yards and 46 touchdowns (221 for his career) through the air, to go along with 853 yards on the ground and 21 scores. Williams continues to be the top receiver with 40 receptions for 864 yards and 21 scores.
The Coyotes also possess a crucial weapon in Daniels should the game come down to the wire. For the season, Daniels has converted 76 two-point kicks and leads the team with 197 of its 845 points (70.4 points per game) scored.
“Converting extra points always plays a big role as well,” Burkhart said. “Richie has done an exceptional job kicking and our holder, Nigel Bates, has done a great job, too. That’s another area of our game we try and step up in the playoffs.”
Richland Springs and Trinidad share one common opponent this season — Calvert. While the Coyotes earned a mercy-rule win last week, Trinidad lost, 86-58, before reeling off eight straight wins to reach the semifinals. Despite those two outcomes, the Coyotes won’t be overlooking the Trojans Friday night.
“We’re looking at this like the 2003 season where we beat Calvert and 45’d Gordon, then we played Strawn in the semifinals, who had lost to Gordon,” Burkhart said. “I think we might have been too relaxed in the semifinals and that hurt us. We are looking at it different this time, and taking it one game at a time.”