RICHLAND SPRINGS — Richland Springs returned to its familiar No. 1 ranking in the latest sixmanfootball.com poll, but being No. 1 just over three weeks from now is what matters most to the Coyotes.
Richland Springs (11-0) has three hurdles left to clear in its pursuit for a third state championship in four seasons. The first obstacle in the Coyotes’ way is the third-ranked Calvert Trojans (12-0), who will be seeking payback for a 52-14 season-ending loss in last year’s Six-Man Division I Region IV championship game.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Badger Field in Lampasas.
“Anytime you play somebody again they get familiar with you, so that’s going to make it a lot tougher for us,” said Coyotes head coach Jerry Burkhart, who is 66-2 in his tenure at Richland Springs. “They’re also going to be a lot more hungry because we did beat them last year. We know they’re going to be come out and try to get a little revenge.”
Winners of 25 consecutive games, the Coyotes answered their season-low 54-point output in a first-round win against Lometa with a season-high 93 points and 364 total yards in last week’s 50-point win over May. Even more impressive than the points themselves was that fact the Richland Springs — which scored on all 11 of its offensive possessions — needed just over 2 1/2 quarters to almost reach the century mark.
Tyler Ethridge threw for 219 yards and five touchdowns, while rushing for 83 yards and three more scores. Mark Williams caught five passes for 76 yards with two touchdowns and Abraham Ahumada chipped in 54 yards rushing and two scores.
“There’s always room for improvement, but our offense last week was pretty great,” Burkhart said. “We moved the ball and scored on every possession and the kids did exactly what we wanted them to.”
Among the areas in which Burkhart feels the Coyotes can improve are blocking technique and patience in decision making.
“There were some instances where we missed some blocks and we have to get that fixed by taking the right angles,” Burkhart said. “We also can’t get too greedy and go for the long ball. We have to be patient and take the short stuff that helps up get a first down.
“We can’t be worried about the quick score. We’re going to have to develop a lot of patience this week. Their defense, it’s hard to coach against the speed they have and that’s one of the things that helps them out.”
Coming into Friday’s contest, the Coyotes are averaging 70.1 points per game and have eclipsed 80 points three times this season. But Calvert is allowing just 12.1 points per game and the Trojans are coming off last week’s 58-0 shutout of Blanket.
Ethridge leads the Coyote offense with 1,855 yards passing and 45 touchdowns, giving him 220 for his record-breaking career. Ethridge also serves as the team’s leading rusher with 687 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Other weapons in the backfield include Shelby Smith, who saw limited time last week after missing the Lometa game with an injury, and Ahumada.
Smith has rushed for 476 yards and 15 scores while catching eight passes for 198 yards and four more touchdowns. Ahumada has seen his workload increase in Smith’s absence as he has rushed for 165 yards and four touchdowns.
Williams continues to be the go-to receiver for the Coyotes as he enters Friday’s contest with 36 catches for 816 yards and 20 touchdowns. Other receiving threats include Haustin Burkhart (12-188, 3 TDs), Patrick Couch (10-237, 6 TDs) and Andrew Fowler (8-135, 5 TDs).
Burkhart stated the Coyotes will be as close to full strength as they have been in over a month as some of the nagging injuries are finally starting to heal.
“This is probably the healthiest we’ve been in the past four or five weeks,” Burkhart said. “Team percentage-wise, I’d say we’re about 95 percent healthy.”
Calvert — which saw an 11-game win streak snapped by the Coyotes last year — carries a string of 12 straight victories into Friday’s contest. The Trojans, who average 58.2 points per game, have done most of their damage on the ground. But after May threw for 203 yards and four touchdowns against the Richland Springs defense, Burkhart is expecting Calvert to put the ball in the air more than usual Friday.
“They have been a predominantly running team, but after last week’s performance by May catching the ball on our coverage, Calvert might throw the ball more,” Burkhart said. “We feel that we match up good against them and we’ve been working on our technique to get those things corrected this week. Hopefully it will work in our favor Friday.”
Slowing down Calvert’s rushing attack will be the biggest key for the Coyotes both offensively and defensively. On defense, Richland Springs would like to avoid giving up a season-high in points for the second week in a row, while the offense does not want to be forced into catch-up mode against a team plays keep away once it gains the lead.
“Offensively, we have to catch the ball, not have any turnovers, push it down the field and try and get ahead of them,” Burkhart said. “We also have to play tough defense. We can’t give them the cut back lanes and we have to tackle efficiently. We can’t miss any tackles because if they get open, they’re going to score.”
Friday’s winner will face either No. 8 Trinidad (10-1) or Abbott (11-1) in the state semifinals next week.