Coyotes targeting 20th consecutive victory

RICHLAND SPRINGS — The Richland Springs Coyotes, with seven state championships to their credit, are no strangers to big games. Friday night, another marquee matchup awaits as two of the Top 5 six-man programs in the state this season clash.

The Class A Division II top-ranked and reigning state champion Coyotes (4-0) host the Class A Division I No. 3 Sterling City Eagles (4-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. In the sixmanfootball.com overall rankings, Richland Springs comes in at No. 2 in the state, just behind No. 1 Happy, while Sterling City is No. 4. The only loss for Sterling City came at the hands of Happy, 47-22, in the season opener.

“They’re going to be very tough,” said Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart, who owns a 174-8 record as head coach of the Coyotes. “They have a good program and their community is a lot like ours in that they take a lot of pride in that program. It should be an exciting game this week.”

Richland Springs, which has outscored its four opponents this season by a 224-21 margin, will be seeking its 20th consecutive victory.

“I’ve been real proud of our kids,” Burkhart said. “A lot of the things we talk about are about preparation. We tell the kids that the games are won early in the week during practice, not on Friday night. These kids are taking it very serious and doing a lot of film study. We’re still making mistakes, so we’ve been working on fundamentals, but I’m real proud of where the kids are right now, and we’re getting better each week. They’re hard working kids that always devote their time, effort and everything they’ve got into each week. That’s what fun about these kids, they’re real coachable.”

The Coyotes enter the contest with victories over Paducah (58-0), Class A Division I No. 8 Zephyr (52-6), Austin Hill Country (60-8) and High Island (54-7). Richland Springs is producing 56 points and 326 yards — 232 rushing and 94 passing — per game, with no turnovers, while giving up just 5 points and 122 yards — 95 passing and 22 rushing — per outing, with 10 takeaways.

“That’s something we preach — turnovers — and our kids go hard at it,” Burkhart said. “We’re going to try and get the ball every play we can. You watch the NFL and college players every Saturday and Sunday and every time someone makes a tackle they’re going for the football. That plays a big part in our game. Any time you can cause a turnover it’s a momentum changer for you and the kids get excited.

“On the offensive side, we try and take care of the ball and, knock on wood, we’ve been real fortunate with no turnovers this year. We try to be smart with the football and understand any time you have the opportunity to be on offense you have to take advantage of it.”

The Richland Springs offense has been sparked by the play of Hutton Lusty (13-324, 9 TDs), Walker Tippie (22-277, 6 TDs) and Jordan Burkhart (14-250, 3 TDs) on the ground. Burkhart (6 of 10, 189 yards, 5 TDs) and Tippie (8 of 12, 187 yards, 3 TDs) have been the primary passers while leading receivers include Colt Carlisle (4-90, TD), Cameron Parham (3-103, 2 TDs), Tippie (3-88, 2 TDs), Traven Day (3-64, 2 TDs) and Lusty (1-31, TD).

The Coyotes defense is anchored by Carlisle (19.5 tackles, six for loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, one interception), Tippie (19 tackles, six interceptions, one fumble recovery), Lusty (19 tackles, six from loss, two sacks), Brandon Tharp (14.5 tackles, one fumble recovery), Parham (14 tackles, 5.5 for loss, two sacks) and Day (nine tackles, one interception).

Since its season-opening loss to Happy, Sterling City has rebounded with victories over Buena Vista (55-8), Meadow (68-32), Aspermont (67-18) and Hermleigh (64-6).

In the wins over Aspermont and Buena Vista, the Eagles forced five turnovers in each contest.

Also against Buena Vista, the Eagles produced 256 yards — 144 rushing and 112 passing — and allowed 206 yards — 175 on the ground and 31 through the air.

The Eagles’ balanced offense featured Jared Everett, who rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Tavenn Raynor added 42 yards and a score and passed for 103 yards and another touchdowns. Kaden Johnson hurled touchdown passes to Carson Mackie and Brenden Sisco, while Lathen Horwood caught one from Raynor.

Everett also returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown and Josue Rodriguez recorded a 43-yard kick return for six points.

Against Aspermont, Sterling City amassed 366 yards — 220 rushing and 116 passing — while giving up 232 yards, but just 26 rushing yards on 31 carries.

“They’re the No. 3 team in the state and they come out and do a lot of good things,” Burkhart said. “They have a lot of speed at the tailback position and they run a lot of multiple sets. Defensively, they’re pretty sound so we’ll have our hands full this week.

“It always boils down to blocking and tackling, those are the main keys. Offensively I feel like we have to move the ball. Sometimes we get used to making big plays and we have to understand against this team 5 yards is a good thing, so we’ll take what we can get. On the defensive side of the ball, they block real well. We have to play off their blocks, mix our fronts up and keep them guessing. It’s a chess match for a coach, and maybe we can find some tendencies.”

ESPN cameras will also be in Richland Springs for Friday night’s game, and have been in town since Wednesday, as the network is producing a documentary to be aired at a later date about six-man football. Richland Springs, which defeated Sterling City, 46-0, in 2010 for one of its seven state championships, is one of the programs that will be featured.

The Coyotes will also have a “Back the Blue” Night Friday, as a dozen local law enforcement officers will be on hand and recognized prior to the coin flip.

According to sixmanfootball.com, Richland Springs is a 22-point favorite.