HICO — The No. 1 Richland Springs Coyotes earned their third trip to the state championship game in four seasons with a 70-22 victory over the No. 7 Trinidad Trojans here Friday night.
“All the seniors were talking before the game and we didn’t come this far to lose,” said Coyote senior spread back Tyler Ethridge, who accounted for five touchdowns. “Our whole lives have pretty much been put into football. To come this far and lose is just not an option.”
Winners of 27 consecutive games, the Coyotes (13-0) will attempt to secure back-to-back state championships next weekend against either No. 2 Rule or No. 5 Rankin, who meet at 5 p.m. today at San Angelo Stadium in the other Six-Man Division I state semifinal.
Richland Springs defeated Rule, 78-58, in the first Six-Man Division I state title game last year, which gave the Coyotes their second state championship in a three-year span.
“We’ve been here before and the kids knew what it felt like in 2005 and 2003 when we got sent home and we didn’t want to feel that way,” said Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart, who improved to 68-2 in his tenure with the Coyotes. “Making it back to the state championship game is one of our biggest priorities.”
Against Trinidad (11-2), the Coyotes scored the first 24 points of the game, then tacked on five second-quarter touchdowns despite snapping the ball only three times.
After allowing a 5:15 drive that did not result in any points to start the second half, the Coyotes marched 78 yards in just four plays to enforce the mercy rule. Richland Springs has yet to play a full four quarters this season.
Richland Springs finished with 308 yards of total offense as Ethridge completed all eight of his pass attempts for 191 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 225 for his record-setting career.
Andrew Fowler finished with three receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown, rushed for a team-high 59 yards and threw a 4-yard scoring toss to Patrick Couch.
Shelby Smith caught two touchdown passes covering 74 yards, Richie Daniels had a 58-yard scoring reception, and Haustin Burkhart and Nigel Bates added catches of 21 and 13 yards, respectively.
On the ground, Abraham Ahumada, Mark Williams and Ethridge rushed for 18 yards apiece, with Ahumada and Williams finding the end zone.
For the second time in the last three weeks, the Coyote offense scored every time it had the ball.
“Our offense right now is clicking and they’re doing a great job,” Burkhart said. “The coaches have had great game plans. Tyler is reading the defenses well, our receivers are catching the ball and what teams are giving us is playing into our favor. When you’ve got weapons like we’ve got, it’s hard to cover us.”
Defensively, the Coyotes limited Trinidad to 234 yards of total offense. Tailback Stacey Womack finished with 121 yards rushing and a touchdown to go along with three catches for 29 yards and another score.
Aside from Womack, the rest of the Trojans generated just 84 total yards.
“Our schemes were similar to the Calvert game, we just needed to contain them and keep them from cutting back,” Ethridge said. “No matter how much you prepare for a back like Womack it’s still not good enough. You just have to be in the right place at the right time and we did a decent job of that tonight.”
Richland Springs took the game’s opening drive 61 yards in seven plays before Ahumada scored on a 1-yard run with 7:14 left in the first half. The first of Daniels’ eight two-point kicks made the score 8-0.
The Coyotes ran the ball six times on the opening drive with Fowler picking up 37 yards.
Smith recovered Daniels’ kickoff deep in Trinidad territory following the touchdown, which set the Coyotes up on the Trojan 11.
Three plays later Fowler hooked up with Couch from 4 yards out as the lead reached 16-0 with 5:40 left in the first period.
After Trinidad failed to score on its first drive, the Coyotes moved 38 yards in three plays as Williams scored on an 18-yard jaunt with 2:20 left in the first period.
Trailing 24-0, Trinidad finally got on the board with 32 seconds left in the opening period on a 38-yard run by D.J. Hubbard. Hubbard was flagged after the play for unsportsmanlike conduct as he refused to step into the end zone after breaking free. Hubbard rushed for just 2 yards the rest of the game.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Coyotes took a 32-8 lead on a 17- yard scoring toss from Ethridge to Fowler.
Trinidad’s ensuing drive ended with a punt being snapped over Womack’s head, which Smith recovered in the end zone to put the Coyotes up 40-8 with 7:18 left in the half.
After a 23-yard pass from Hubbard to Womack cut Richland Springs’ lead to 40-14, the Coyotes responded with a one-play drive that featured a 35-yard catch and run by Smith.
Richland Springs’ next drive also lasted just one play as Ethridge found a wide open Daniels for a 58-yard scoring strike to push the lead to 56-14 with 52 seconds left in the half.
Womack answered with a 43-yard TD sprint for Trinidad, but Ethridge scooped up an onside kick and darted though the Trojan kickoff team for a 45-yard touchdown. That score gave the Coyotes a 64-22 halftime cushion.
Trinidad took nine plays to the Richland Springs 7 on its first drive of the second half, but failed to find the end zone on its next four plays.
Following an 18-yard run by Fowler and a 21-yard Ethridge-to-Haustin Burkhart completion, Smith took a toss from Ethridge 39 yards for the final touchdown.
“We’re in a rhythm,” Ethridge said. “I don’t know what defenses are doing. Maybe since the record they’re trying to prevent the pass. What we’re doing is taking what the defense is giving us and not forcing anything. Most of it is short balls and we’re taking advantage of that. That’s all we do.”