Bishop Norman rushes for six TDs, throws two for Bulldogs

GATESVILLE —The top-ranked Richland Springs Coyotes passed their toughest test to date and kept their goal of an eighth state championship alive with their 26th consecutive victory, 78-43 over the No. 4 Milford Bulldogs in Division II-A Region IV semifinal action Friday night.

Richland Springs (11-0) advances to meet No. 2 Calvert (12-0) — a 72-24 victor over Iredell Thursday — for the Region IV championship next week. Calvert is the last team to claim a victory over the Coyotes, ending their The game’s biggest swing came midway through the second quarter after May (11-1) forced a Zephyr 10-2) turnover on downs trailing 28-14. It was the first drive on which Zephyr had not scored.

The Tigers’ drive started from the Zephyr 31, and they quickly completed a 9-yard pass to senior Cameron King. After two backwards rushes, however, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-13 from the Bulldogs 29. Robert Clark appeared to snag an interception when junior Wyatt Mote lobbed the ball short into the end zone, but the Bulldogs were called for pass interference to give the Tigers new life from the 15.

They weren’t able to take advantage — just two plays later, Mote tossed a nearly-identical interception to Clark. The Bulldogs drove from their 20 and, four plays later, Zephyr took a 36-14 lead. Norman finished the drive with a 33-yard touchdown pass, his second of the night.

Zephyr took the game’s opening kick from its 34 and quickly revealed its strategy: handing off to Norman on nearly every play. Norman found the end zone in six plays with consistent, medium-yardage runs, capping the drive from 9 yards out.

The game looked like it might turn into a tit-for-tat shootout when, on the very first play of its drive, May answered the Zephyr score with a 50-yard touchdown bomb to junior Preston Johnston down the left sideline.

But the Tigers weren’t able to sustain their passing attack on the night. While Zephyr scored again quickly behind more Norman runs, May’s second drive ended with a turnover on downs.

Things got worse quickly for the Tigers. Zephyr took advantage of the short field to score in just three plays. Norman finished the drive with his first touchdown pass, faking out the entire defense by taking a pitch to the left before finding the uncovered Devin Williams down the left sideline from 27 yards out.

King took a handoff to start the ensuing May drive, ran 8 yards and promptly fumbled the ball right back to the Bulldogs, who scored yet again. It looked like May was in real danger of losing the game by halftime.

But the Tigers were able to stop the bleeding before the half. Mote snagged an interception from Norman in the end zone on a Zephyr fourth-and-goal, and the Tigers then managed a gritty 60-yard touchdown drive — aided by several Zephyr penalties — that ended with a 6-yard Johnston score on a pitch to the right. May went into the break trailing 44-20.

While Zephyr had its sights set on a mercy rule victory, May’s second-half response ensured that wouldn’t be the case. The Tigers caught Zephyr on its back foot when it marched down the field in five plays to score and cut the deficit to 44-26. The Tigers, however, missed yet another extra point after the touchdown — a theme that would recur throughout the evening, as the Tigers ended up kicking just one of their eight extra point tries successfully, leaving 14 points on the field.

The Tigers stopped Zephyr for a surprising three-and-out on its first drive of the half, and momentum had swung in their favor. Taking over at their 26, the Tigers started the drive with a 17-yard Johnston reception and quickly narrowed the score to 44-32.

But that’s as close as May would get in the contest. Zephyr’s offense reestablished itself on the next drive and Norman found the end zone for the fourth time. May answered with a score of its own, as King leapt over two defenders to haul down a contested ball in the right corner of the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.

King scored his fifth touchdown of the contest — two on the ground, three through the air — when he hauled down a 30-yard touchdown pass to make it 60-44 with 5 minutes to play.

But Norman couldn’t be stopped, barreling down the field on yet another touchdown drive, and Clark sealed the game with his third interception plays later.

After the game, Zephyr head coach Shannon Williams marveled at Norman’s performance. “He’s been hurt most of the year,” he said. “It’s just one of those deals where, if you can’t stop it, just keep going.”

May head coach Craig Steele said he’s grown to expect such performances from Norman. “He ran extremely hard, and we knew he would,” he said. “That’s the kind of kid he is, and he’s been like that for four years.

“We’re sick of playing him. He is a senior, right?” Steele joked.

Steele said he was proud of the way his players fought through the season. “Most people would have said we’d have never got to this point, losing what we lost last year to graduation,” Steele said. “I’m super proud of these kids. Super proud of them.”

Zephyr will face District 11 rival Jonesboro in the Region III championship game next weekend. The Bulldogs lost the first meeting between the teams this season, 80-46.