SAN SABA — The No. 2 Richland Springs Coyotes fumbled through the end zone twice, had an interception return for a touchdown called back and committed five penalties for 45 yards — and still cruised to a 54-6 bi-district victory over the Lometa Hornets.
Tyler Ethridge’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Haustin Burkhart — his fourth scoring toss of the night — ended the contest at the 7:21 mark of the third period.
Ethridge finished with 181 yards passing and the four scoring tosses — giving him 215, unofficially, for his career — and added 92 yards rushing and another score.
Mark Williams caught two of Ethridge’s touchdown passes — covering 6 and 62 yards — and also returned a blocked punt 37 yards for a score.
But correcting the mistakes the Coyotes (10-0) made was the focal point of head coach Jerry Burkhart’s post-game address to his team.
“We’ve talked to our kids about adversity, and we shot ourselves in the foot again just like we did last week,” said Burkhart in reference to last week’s 60-14 win over Rochelle in which the Coyotes led just 16-6 at halftime.
“These are 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids out here and they’re going to make mistakes,” Burkhart added. “But it’s our jobs as coaches to get it corrected. If we don’t, we’re going to be sitting at home.”
For all their troubles, the Coyotes — who are attempting to earn back-to-back state championships and their third state title in four seasons — were never in jeopardy in their 24th consecutive victory. Richland Springs forced fumbles on Lometa’s (6-5) opening two drives and converted one turnover into a touchdown.
Richie Daniels pounced on a Brandon Faubion fumble three plays into the game, and the Coyotes needed just three snaps of their own to open the scoring.
Andrew Fowler scored on a 3-yard run to cap the opening drive, which gave Richland Springs an 8-0 advantage at the 7:26 mark of the first period.
“We came out pretty aggressive on defense and tried to set the tone and create turnovers because we knew they were going to ball control us,” Burkhart said. “We had to get the ball in our hands.”
The Coyotes forced another fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by Khalid Khalib.
Ethridge ran 17 yards on the first play of the drive, but the ball was jarred loose prior to him crossing the goal line, and it squirted out of bounds for a touchback.
Lometa managed one first down on its next possession and was then forced to punt. But Daniels broke through the Hornet line and got a hand on the ball, which fell into the arms of Williams. After one juke move, Williams was off to the end zone for a 16-0 Richland Springs lead at the 4:07 mark of the opening quarter.
The Hornets answered with their only touchdown of the night as Joe Michael Rivera hit Bubba Salinas on a 19-yard scoring toss. The kick was no good, and Lometa trailed 16-6 with 2:37 left in the first period.
Richland Springs moved 53 yards in five plays on its next possession as Ethridge connected with Nigel Bates on an 18-yard scoring toss — his first pass attempt on the game — to push the Coyotes ahead, 24-6, with 1:15 remaining in the first quarter.
The Coyotes’ next drive ended with an interception that was returned 50 yards down to the Richland Springs 10, but Lometa could not turn the mistake into points.
Richland Springs again appeared headed for touchdown on its next drive, but Ethridge’s 47-yard toss to Patrick Couch resulted in another fumble through the end zone with 6:39 left in the first half.
Ethridge switched the momentum by picking off a Rivera pass and returning it 24 yards for a touchdown, but that score was negated on a chop block call. Richland Springs was also assessed another 15-yard personal foul after the play.
But the Coyotes still came away with points as, following a pair of Abraham Ahumada runs totaling 33 yards, Ethridge scored on a 5-yard carry. Daniels’ two-point kick pushed the lead to 32-6 with 5:20 left in the half.
Richland Springs pieced together a four-play, 44-yard scoring drive on its next possession, which ended on a 6-yard Ethridge to Williams toss with 2:46 left in the half.
Ethridge found Williams — who caught a team-high four passes for 78 yards — again on the first play of the Coyotes’ next possession for a 62-yard score, which upped the Richland Springs lead to 48-6 with 1:26 remaining before halftime.
After intermission, Richland Springs took the opening drive 43 yards in five plays to enforce the mercy rule.
Offensively, the Coyotes finished with 345 yards of total offense — 216 passing and 129 rushing.
Lometa ended the game with 115 total yards, including 89 passing on 6-of-17 attempts.
“I tip my hat to Lometa,” Burkhart. “They’re not scared of you and they’re going to come out and fight. We expected a dogfight and that’s what we got.”
Next week, the Coyotes will battle District 13 champion May (9-1) — which had a bye this week — for the third straight postseason. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Comanche’s Indian Stadium.