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Balmorhea wins first state title, ends Richland Springs' 26-game winning streak

Paul Harris and Charles Bryce / San Angelo Standard-Times
Jayden Bryant breaks a tackle for Richland Springs.

SAN ANGELO — The Balmorhea Bears football team won its first state title Tuesday with a 74-38 victory over Richland Springs in the Class 1A Division II championship at San Angelo Stadium.

Running back Tomas Contreras had four touchdown runs and finished with 307 yards rushing, while center Gary Alex Abraham had four TD catches. Every reception he made was for a TD, as he finished with 145 yards receiving.

Abraham actually earned Offensive MVP honors, a rare achievement for a lineman, though everyone is an eligible receiver in six-man football, and Abraham made the most of every opportunity.

Defensive end Sean Orozco, who led Balmorhea's relentless push up front, was named Defensive MVP.

"This has been my goal since I came to Balmorhea," Bears head coach Vance Jones said. "I retired in 2012 at Garden City and I thought I was through, and Balmorhea came and talked me into coming back. And I thought, 'Oh, I'll do it two or three years.' And here it is nine years later.

"I really enjoy the kids we have. They're such good, outstanding young men. They work hard and they believe in what we're doing. When I got there, I started saying, 'We're going to go to state,' and they never even thought about going to state. It was always (just about) winning district games. And once we got that started, the kids all bought into it, and it just got better every year."

The third time was the charm for Balmorhea in state-title games under Jones. They lost in the final in 2016 and '17.

"We've been here two previous years and made a good run, and the last two years we had to go to D-I and made good runs in that," Jones said. "And then we got back to where we belong in D-II. And all these seniors, they were freshmen the last time we were here. 

"It was very special for them to work for it and make it back. And for them to win it, that's just icing on the cake."

Richland Springs entered the game on a 26-game winning streak and was trying to become the first team in Texas with 10 state titles.

"We're blessed to be a part of this," Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart said. "Even though it didn't come out the we wanted it to, all the glory goes to God. I'm just glad we got to play the game. Like I said, when you win, you stay humble, and when you lose, you don't make any excuses.

"We got outplayed tonight and we've just got to get better. It stings for my kids and it stings for my coaching staff because we worked so hard. It just didn't come out our way tonight, and hats off to Balmorhea. Vance Jones does a heck of a job, and his kids came to play."

Beating a nine-time state champion like Richland Springs made Tuesday's championship even more special for the Bears.

"That's really amazing," Jones said. "I've known coach Burkhart forever and we're good friends. I guess we've played each other one, two, three, four, five ... this is the fifth time, and I finally beat him. It's really special."

Balmorhea's defense forced four punts in the first half — an almost unfathomable feat against Richland Springs — helping the Bears take a 44-16 lead into halftime.

Jones has now won three state titles with three teams.

His first came back in 1974 with Marathon. He won back-to-back titles with Garden City in 2009 and '10, and he also took Sanderson to the 2002 state final.

Balmorhea, which entered this season ranked No. 1, backed it up. The Bears ended the season with 12 straight wins after dropping their season opener 38-36 to Rankin.

Richland Springs' season ended with a record of 12-1. It was the Coyotes' first loss since a 66-56 setback against Oakwood in the 2017 state quarterfinals.

Landon Burkhart led Richland Springs in his final game with four TD passes and a TD run.

The game was originally scheduled to be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the site of all of the other state-title games that have been contested so far this season. It had to be rescheduled, however, due to COVID-19 issues.

It was the first time San Angelo hosted a state final since 2007.

"This is awesome," Jones said. "The last time I played in this stadium, I was at Sanderson in 2002 and we were ahead 32-0 at the half and got beat 51-46. So this is pretty special to come in here and win."

The good news for Richland Springs is that the Coyotes only lose three seniors to graduation — Chase Gossett, TJ Grant and Landon Burkhart.

"We're not going to just sit here and say, 'Well, we've got three seniors graduating and we've got some other kids coming up.' We just reload. That's what we're going to do. We're going to reload.

"We got beat by the better team tonight and I'm proud of Balmorhea. That's an awesome community and they deserve one. This is their third trip. They've been here and they got it done tonight and they outplayed us, and we're not going to make any excuses."

Balmorhea 74, Richland Springs 38

Richland Springs    8    8    14    8 — 38

Balmorhea    8    36    16    14  74

First Quarter

B -- Tomas Contreras 51 run (Lauro Mata kick), 6:16 remaining

RS -- Zane Capps 45 pass from Landon Burkhart (Chase Gossett kick), 5:14

Second Quarter

B -- Lane Carrasco 5 pass from Andrew Laramore (L. Mata kick), 9:55

RS -- Nick Nilson 2 pass from Burkhart (Gossett kick), 8:51

B -- Contreras 61 run (L. Mata kick), 8:36

B -- Gary Alex Abraham 69 pass from Laramore (kick failed), 6:13

B -- Contreras 36 run (L. Mata kick), 3:54

B -- Abraham 17 pass from Laramore (kick blocked), 1:58

Third Quarter

RS -- Burkhart 6 run (kick blocked), 6:53

B -- Abraham 31 pass from Laramore (L. Mata kick), 6:11

RS -- Nilson 17 pass from Burkhart (Gossett kick), 4:39

B -- Abraham 19 pass from Laramore (L. Mata kick), 1:48

Fourth Quarter

B -- Dylan Aguirre 28 run (kick blocked), 8:51

RS -- Jadeyn Bryant 36 pass from Burkhart (Gossett kick), 7:16

B -- Contreras 55 run (L. Mata kick), 5:11

                        R. Springs        Balmorhea

First downs    13                        14

Rushes-yds    27-29                  36-377

Passing yds    328                       150

Comp-att-int    22-32-1              5-9-1

Punts-avg.        4-32.5                0-0

Fumbles-lost      2-1                    1-1

Penalties-yds    7-50                   3-15

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing -- Richland Springs: Jadeyn Bryant 7-27, Landon Burkhart 15-20, Zane Capps 4-(-9), Chase Gossett 1-(-9). Balmorhea: Tomas Contreras 21-307, Dylan Aguirre 4-40, Angel Iniguez 4-16, Lance Carrasco 1-12, Alex Mata 2-10, Aidaen Mata 1-3, Elijah Jefferson 1-(-2), Lauro Mata 2-(-9).