RICHLAND SPRINGS — One event is a first in the history of Texas six-man high school football, while the other has become commonplace for Richland Springs’ Tyler Ethridge.
When the Division I top-ranked Richland Springs Coyotes (2-0) clash with the Division II top-ranked Northside Indians (3-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium, it will mark the first time two UIL six-man state champions have faced each other.
The UIL split six-man football into two divisions last year. Richland Springs won the Division I title — its second in three years — by beating Rule, while Northside captured the Division II crown over Jayton. Both state championship games were played at Shotwell.
“We’re very excited as a team to get to play in a game like this where Division I and Division II meet up,” said Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart. “We’re both state champs and both No. 1 in our divisions, so it’s a thrilling game for us. The kids are really hyped up and ready to play. The emotions are running high right now.”
Also Saturday, Ethridge — the Coyotes’ senior spread back — will be attempting to break his fourth career passing touchdowns record in less than 12 months.
Ethridge has already eclipsed the state and national six-man career touchdown passes records (formerly held by Greenville Christian’s Nathan Strand) and the state’s career touchdown passes record in all classifications (formerly held by ex-Ennis Lion and current Texas Texas quarterback Graham Harrell).
Now Ethridge has his sights set on former Florida Gator and current Chicago Bears quarterback Chris Leak, whose 185 career touchdown passes is the national high school record for all classification levels. With two scoring tosses Saturday, Ethridge will have 186 for his career and yet another record all to himself.
“I haven’t given it much thought other than the game coming up,” said Ethridge of the latest record he is about to claim. “It won’t really soak in until after I break it and after my teammates come up to me like they did last year in the Eden game.”
Ethridge surpassed Strand’s mark in a 96-0 win over Eden in 2006.
“I think it’s an astounding record and accomplishment for this team and for Tyler,” Burkhart said. “There’s a lot of critics that say it’s not 11-man, but you still have to look at the stats and the record. We do understand there is a difference in 11-man, eight-man and six-man, but it’s still a great accomplishment.”
Through two games this season, Ethridge has completed 17-of-23 pass attempts for 466 yards with nine touchdowns. On the ground, he’s rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts. For his career, Ethridge has 3,681 yards rushing and 86 touchdowns to go along with his 8,656 passing yards and 184 TDs.
Never did Ethridge expect to own even one high school football passing record, but he points to his astronomical numbers as freshman — when the Coyotes won their first state title in 2004 — as the springboard for his career success.
Ethridge — who has won 44 of 45 high school games, all varsity — threw 53 touchdown passes in his first year, 68 in his second and 54 last season.
“Most people didn’t expect me to throw that many touchdown passes my freshman and sophomore years. I didn’t expect it,” Ethridge said. “It wasn’t really a game plan, that’s just how it worked out. I think God had it all planned out.”
Several of Ethridge’s teammates, like himself, are also seniors this year. That will make breaking this record even more special as most of these same players were a part of the previous benchmarks in his career.
“There will most likely be tears,” Ethridge said. “These guys mean so much to me. Sometimes they probably don’t think I care about them as much because I get on to them at practice, but they mean the world to me. I wouldn’t be able to be the player I am without them.”
Nor would he be that player without the guidance of his father, Coyotes’ assistant head coach Harley Ethridge, who has patrolled the sideline during Tyler’s entire high school career.
“I’ll probably end up giving him the ball because he’s the one that encouraged me to be a spread back and worked with me on that,” Ethridge said of his father. “It’s all about him and my teammates. I have to soak it all in. I don’t want to just rush by it.”
History says it would be next to impossible for Ethridge not to break the record Saturday night, but he insisted there is no pressure on him this game, or at any point in the season.
“(The pressure) is less than it used to be because the players around me have gotten so much better, and as a team we’ve gotten so much better,” Ethridge said. “I’m not really the go-to guy anymore. It’s Shelby Smith and Mark Williams and guys like that. We just all do our jobs. We all have a small part and do it as good as we can.”
Northside would like nothing more than to ruin the Coyotes’ celebration and hand Richland Springs only its third loss in 61 games under Burkhart.
The Indians enter the contest with victories of 64-14 over Knox City, 45-22 over Crowell and a forfeit over Wichita Falls Notre Dame last week.
Northside, under the direction of head coach Ed Donahue, returns 14 lettermen and four starters on each side of the ball from last year’s 14-1 squad.
Offensively, the Indians are led by spread back Colby White — who threw for 2,303 yards and ran for 1,919 yards last year — and receiver Zach Agnew.
“I expect to see a very explosive offense,” Burkhart said. “They run a lot of spread and they’ve got some fast guys and a lot of overall team speed. Their spread back is very quick, he has a good arm and he’s all over the field.
“Agnew is their go-to receiver. He’s about 6-3 or 6-4, he can get up, uses his hands well and gets off on his routes quickly.”
The Indians are allowing just 18 points per game thus far, though they have never faced an offense with as many weapons as the Coyotes. Still, Burkhart expects the Indians to have some wrinkles that will cause Richland Springs a few problems.
“I’m glad we have the opportunity to play another worthy opponent this week, one that could expose some more weaknesses we need to work on,” Burkhart said. “The first game exposed a lot of the weaknesses we had and we were able to go back and refocus on that.
“Through the first two games I’ve been really pleased. The kids are working hard and they know they have to get better if we’re going to keep this thing rolling.”
SIX-MAN ‘BATTLE OF NO. 1s’, No. 1 Richland Springs (2-0) vs. No. 1 Northside (3-0), 6 p.m. Saturday — Abilene Shotwell Stadium, 2006 Result: Did not meet