SAN ANGELO – For the first time since 2001, the Richland Springs Coyotes made an appearance in a six-man state championship without emerging as the victors.
In their quest to expand their record of six-man state championships to 10 – all coming since 2004 – the No. 3 Coyotes were upended by the top-ranked Balmorhea Bears, 74-38, Tuesday night in the Class A Division II state final.
The state championship is the first for Balmorhea (12-1) in three appearances, while the Coyotes slipped to 9-2 in state finals.
The loss also snapped a 26-game win for streak Richland Springs (12-1), which had not lost a game since head coach Jerry Burkhart took over the program again prior to the 2019 campaign, which resulted in the Coyotes’ most recent state title.
Tuesday’s contest also marked just the 11th defeat for Richland Springs in 230 games coached by Burkhart over 17 seasons in charge of the program.
“I’m just going to go by Grandpa’s word, he told me when I was growing up that when you win you stay humble and when you lose you make no excuses,” Burkhart said. “Balmorhea played good today, they played better than us. We got outplayed and we’ll have to get better. It stings for my kids, it stings for the coaching staff because we worked so hard, but it just didn’t come our way tonight. Hats off to Balmorhea, Vance Jones does a heck of a job and his kids came to play.”
The Coyotes finished with 357 yards of total offense, but were limited to just 29 rushing yards on 27 carries. Balmorhea, led by defensive player of the game Sean Orozco, recorded 12 tackles for loss against the Coyotes and also forced a pair of turnovers as well as an uncharacteristic four punts.
Landon Burkhart passed for 328 yards and four touchdowns while leading receivers included Zane Capps with six catches for 82 yards and a score, T.J. Grant with five grabs for 70 yards, Jadeyn Bryant with four receptions for 84 yards with a trip to the end zone, Chase Gossett hauled down four catches totaling 55 yards, and Nick Nilson tallied three receptions for 37 yards and scored twice.
Bryant led the Coyotes on the ground with 27 yards followed by Burkhart with 20 as the duo combined for 22 carries.
Meanwhile, the Bears churned out 527 yards – 377 on the ground led by Tomas Contreras, who ran for 307 yards and four touchdowns; and 150 yards passing as all five of Andrew Laramore’s completions went for touchdowns, led by offensive player of the game Gary Alex Abraham’s four grabs for 145 yards and four trips to the end zone.
Richland Springs did force two more turnovers – which had been among the keys to the Coyotes’ postseason march, nabbing 16 takeaways in the playoffs compared to 13 in the regular season – but converted neither into points.
Burkhart led the Coyotes with eight tackles followed by Bryant and Capps – who picked off a pass and recovered a Balmorhea fumble – with five each.
Knotted at 16 early in the second quarter, the game got away from the Coyotes when Balmorhea reeled off four consecutive touchdowns en route to a 44-16 halftime edge.
Immediately after Richland Springs pulled even on a 20-yard scoring toss from Burkhart to Nilson, Balmorhea answered with a one-play, 61-yard scoring sprint by Contreras to regain a 24-16 edge with 8:36 left in the first half.
The Coyotes lost 2 yards on their next possession and were forced to punt, and the Bears responded with a 69-yard scoring strike from Laramore to Abraham to increase the advantage to 30-16 at the 6:13 mark of the second period.
Richland Springs advanced to the Balmorhea 10 on the next drive before an intentional grounding call moved the ball back to the 31 – one of seven flags for 56 yards against the Coyotes. The next play resulted in an interception, and Balmorhea cashed in with a 36-yard touchdown run by Contreras two plays to pad the cushion to 38-16.
The following Coyote drive netted -6 total yards, which led to yet another punt, which the Bears returned to the Richland Springs 17. On the next play. Laramore and Abraham connected again to stretch the lead to 44-16 with 1:58 left in the half.
“It all comes down to blocking and tackling and we just got behind the eight-ball a little bit,” Burkhart said. “I felt good about midway through the second quarter, it was 16-16, and all the sudden the wheels fell off for us.”
The Coyote offense put forth a much more consistent performance in the second half, but the Richland Springs defense continued to struggle with slowing down the Balmorhea offense.
Burkhart threw touchdown passes of 15 yards to Nilson and 36 yards to Bryant in the second half to go along with a 6-yard scamper to the end zone. Burkhart also hurled a 45-yard touchdown pass to Capps in the first quarter, but the lull by the Coyote offense in the second quarter could not be overcome.
Despite the loss, Burkhart expressed pride in the team for reaching the state championship game.
“Nobody expected us to be here and our kids fought each week,” Burkhart said. “We played a very good Balmorhea team and we’re blessed to be a part of this. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it too, all glory goes to God. I’m just glad we got to play the game.”
Originally scheduled for Dec. 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the game was postponed 20 days after a COVID-19 issue with the Balmorhea program.
CLASS A DIVISION II STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Balmorhea 74, Richland Springs 38
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Rich Springs 8 8 14 8 – 38
Balmorhea 8 36 16 14 – 74
B — Tomas Contreras 51 run (Lauro Mata kick), 6:16
RS — Zane Capps 45 pass from Landon Burkhart (Chase Gossett kick), 5:14
B — Lane Carrasco 5 pass from Andrew Laramore (Mata kick), 9:55
RS — Nick Nilson 20 pass from Burkhart (Gossett kick), 8:51
B — Contreras 61 run (Mata kick), 8:36
B — Abraham 69 pass from Laramore (kick failed), 6:13
B — Contreras 36 run (Mata kick), 3:54
B — Abraham 17 pass from Laramore (kick failed), 1:58
RS — Burkhart 6 run (kick failed), 6:53
B — Abraham 40 pass from Laramore (Mata kick), 6:11
RS — Nilson 15 pass from Burkhart (Gossett kick), 4:39
B — Abraham 19 pass from Laramore (Mata kick), 1:40
B — Dylan Aguirre 29 run (kick failed), 8:51
RS — Jadeyn Bryant 36 pass from Burkhart (Gossett kick), 7:16
B — Contreras 56 run (Mata kick), 5:11
First Downs 13 14
Total Yards 357 527
Rushes-Yards 27-29 36-377
Passing Yards 328 150
Comp-Att-Int 22-32-1 5-9-1
Fumbles Lost 1 1
Penalties-Yards 7-56 3-15
Punts 4-32.5 0
RUSHING: Richland Springs – Jadeyn Bryant 7-27; Landon Burkhart 15-20, TD; Zane Capps 4-(-9), Chase Gossett 1-(-9). Balmorhea – Tomas Contreras 21-307, 4 TDs; Dylan Aguirre 4-40, TD; Angel Iniguez 4-16; Lane Carrasco 4-12; Alex Mata 2-10; Aidaen Mata 1-3; Elijah Jefferson 1-(-2); Lauro Mata 2-(-9)
PASSING: Richland Springs – Burkhart 22-30-0-328, 4 TDs; Bryant 0-1-0-0; Gossett 0-1-1-0. Balmorhea – Andrew Laramore 5-9-1-150, 5 TDs.
RECEIVING: Richland Springs – Capps 6-82, TD; T.J. Grant 5-70; Bryant 4-84, TD; Gossett 4-55; Nick Nilson 3-37, 2 TDs. Balmorhea – Gary Alex Abraham 4-145, 4 TDs; Carrasco 1-5, TD.