ARLINGTON — Already in possession of the most six-man football state championships in Texas high school history, the Richland Springs Coyotes added to their collection with No. 9 Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Stadium, thanks to a 62-16 victory over the Motley County Matadors.
The Class A Division II state title is the first for Richland Springs (13-0) since 2016, but all nine of the crowns have been captured since 2004 — and all under the direction of head coach Jerry Burkhart, who returned to guide the Coyotes this season after a one-year absence.
“First of all I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “Burkhart said. “These guys right here, God blessed me with these guys and they worked hard. We give all the glory to Him. We tell these guys every day that God gives you an opportunity and it's up to you to do something about it.
“It was rough at first, we felt like Satan was trying to get in the program and pull us different directions, but we finally fell in love with each other and we learned to play as a team. If you're ever going to win it you have to play together. There's no room for 'me,' it has to be 'us.' Once you figure that out, that it's us, that's when you become unstoppable.”
The ground game for Richland Springs proved unstoppable for Motley County (11-4) as all 368 of the Coyotes' total yards came on the ground. Offensive Player of the Game Landon Burkhart rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns, Matthew Rigdon chipped in 106 yards and three scores, Lane Shannon tallied 97 yards and three trips to the end zone, and Griff Rigdon added 11 yards on his lone carry.
Richland Springs attempted just three passes the entire game, which ended with 5:31 left in the third period when the Coyotes enforced the 45-point mercy rule.
Defensively, Richland Springs turned in its third consecutive stellar performance — allowing no more than two touchdowns in any of those games to close out an undefeated season.
The Coyotes stated they began to finally mesh against Calvert in the second round, a game in which Richland Springs scored with 41 seconds left to secure a 34-29 victory. From that point on, the Coyotes 45-ed the rest of their foes.
Motley County's Jake Richards entered the game with 3,903 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns on the ground — averages of 279 yards and five scores per outing — but finished with 178 yards and one score against the Coyotes. As a team, the Matadors churned out 277 total yards.
Also, Matador quarterback Demetric Sims had thrown for 1,430 yards and 32 scores, but connected on just 3 of 13 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown to Kade Wampler, who caught two passes for 37 yards. Richards added a 59-yard catch-and-run.
Wade Appleton led the Coyotes with nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, to earn Defensive Player of the Game honors while Burkhart amassed six tackles followed by Matthew Rigdon with four, Shannon and Massiah Clardy with 3.5 each, Jadeyn Bryant with two and Zane Cupps and Josiah Beam with one apiece.
“These guys right here, they came out and played, they knew what we had to do and they tackled well,” Burkhart said. “That's the key to success, they believe in themselves. We have a joke in Richland Springs that we want these guys to go out there like they can whip their daddies, but don't ever try it. They felt the mojo, they had the swag going and they knew the chore that we had to do.”
After holding Motley County to a four-and-out to start the contest, Richland Springs took over at the Matador 34 and needed just five plays to reach the end zone. Burkhart's 2-yard touchdown carry staked the Coyotes to an 8-0 lead following the first of seven successful two-point kicks by Appleton — which began a string of 24 straight points by Richland Springs out of the gate.
Richland Springs increased the lead to 16-0 with 38 seconds left in the first quarter on a 5-yard rush by Matthew Ridgon, which came after Motley County's third straight possession without points.
Motley County's ensuing possession died at the Coyote 3, and three plays later Shannon scored on a 17-yard sprint. Burkhart's 49-yard run on the first play of the series quickly moved the ball to the Matador 28.
The Matadors' only points of the first half came with 6:46 left in the second period on a 62-yard touchdown run by Richards, along with an Andrew Stafford kick.
Leading 24-8, the Coyotes tacked on two more touchdowns to establish a 40-8 halftime cushion. First, Burkhart scored on a 36-yard scamper at the 5:08 mark with Richland Springs facing a fourth-and-7. Then, with 22 seconds to go before the break, Shannon found the end zone from 7 yards out after Motley County gave up possession at the Coyote 31. Matthew Ridgon bulldozed through the Matador defense for 24 yards to set up the final score of the half.
“We have the philosophy that offense wins games and sells tickets, but defense wins championships,” Burkhart said. “These kids stepped up, and we made some adjustments.
“Plus it's nice when you have an offensive coordinator (Shawn Rogers) that studies a lot and schemes them. When you have plays that are just working, that's a great thing.”
Three plays into the third period, Richland Springs was back on the board with a 1-yard plunge by Matthew Ridgon, which made the score 48-8 just 37 seconds after halftime.
Motley County prolonged the contest with a seven-play, 60-yard drive that culminated with Wampler's 20-yard scoring reception from Sims.
The Coyotes answered with a 60-yard sprint to the end zone by Matthew Rigdon, upping the lead to 56-16 on just one play.
Richland Springs' defense then held Motley County to another four-and-out, and the Coyotes ended the game with another one-play scoring drive — a 31-yard sprint by Shannon that secured the program's latest state crown.
In regard to earning a record ninth six-man state championship, Burkhart said, “I have been blessed many times but each one is special, and these guys are special to me. We told them all year long, if you keep working hard and keep believing in us as coaches, then when the community is behind you, the school board is behind you, your kids are working hard and you have God in your program, great things happen.
“It's not about me, I promise you that, it's about these boys. Coach Rogers and I don't care about any glory or anything like that, it's about these kids and them serving. Sometimes people say things and try and tear you down on the outside, but God sees your heart and if you take advantage of that I think you'll be blessed like we are today.”