DUBLIN – Leading by as many as three scores in the fourth quarter, the Richland Springs Coyotes witnessed their lead dwindle to a mere three points. With the Strawn Greyhounds 24 yards away from the end zone and six seconds left on the clock, the state championship hopes of both teams came down to the final snap.
Strawn’s Kadin Parsons dropped back to pass and was immediately harassed by Richland Springs’ Jadeyn Bryant. While Bryant wasn’t able to bring down Parsons, the Greyhound passer was forced to dump the ball short to Luke Eli. Though Eli found a seam down the right sideline, eventually a pack of Coyotes ran him out of bounds 5 yards short of the end zone.
And with that final gang tackle Friday night, Richland Springs earned the right to play for its 10th six-man football state championship with a 59-56 triumph over Strawn in the Class A Division II state semifinals.
“Everybody was holding their breath,” Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart said of the final play. “Fortunately we stayed with the play, we got in a little prevent defense and thought if we get to him and get a little pressure maybe he’ll make a mistake.”
Burkhart stated the scenario reminded him of the 2003 state semifinal, where Strawn upended Richland Springs, 56-54, by scoring a touchdown with two seconds left on the clock. The next season, the Coyotes began their run of nine state championships in a 16-year span.
“2003 was going through my mind, let’s not let them get down to the end zone and score in the last few seconds,” Burkhart said. “We just ran a little different defense this time. 2003 has haunted me for a long time, we lost in the last two seconds. As a coach you learn form your mistakes. I told the guys if you want this, you have to fight, and that’s what they did. I’m just proud of our kids. We’ve got 14 kids and they just fight so hard. We make a lot of mistakes, but I tell our guys I don’t care about 45-ing anybody, let’s just win by one. This group, taking them to the state championship game, is a big deal.”
While Richland Springs – the reigning Class A Division II state champion – has been known for its utter dominance in seasons past, this rendition of Coyotes has shown a flare for the dramatic, pulling out much closer victories to earn the program’s 11th state appearance overall, and the chance to claim state titles in consecutive seasons for a fifth time.
“The work ethic of these kids is unbelievable,” Burkhart said. “Nobody believed we would get here. All year long we heard Richland’s down, but one thing about Richland Springs, Texas is we keep fighting. Kudos to our kids and our coaching staff – Coach Rogers is the offensive coordinator and Haustin Burkhart is our special teams coordinator- and we all had a part in this. We work hard and that’s what makes our program pretty good. These kids deserve all the credit, but we give God all the glory.”
Richland Springs finished with 396 yards of total offense – 255 rushing and 139 passing – with three turnovers, while Strawn produced 456 yards – 285 on the ground and 171 through the air – with three turnovers of its own.
Landon Burkhart rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns for Richland Springs, while passing for 104 yards with a scoring toss and an interception. Zane Capps added 54 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while grabbing two passes for 18 yards. Bryant contributed 35 yards through the air, 9 on the ground, and grabbed three receptions for 26 yards. Chase Gossett caught a team-high four passes for 83 yards and reached the end zone once, while T.J. Grant finished with a pair of receptions covering 12 yards.
Burkhart also led the defensive charge with 8.5 tackles, including two for loss, with an interception and a fumble recovery. Bryant and Capps both finished with 7.5 tackles, with Bryant chalking up a sack and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, and Gossett added 6.5 tackles.
Strawn was sparked by Eli’s 251 yards and four scores on the ground, along with three catches for 50 yards and a trip to the end zone. Parsons threw for 138 yards with two touchdowns with an interception, while Jade Barrett caught a team-best four passes for 87 yards.
Bryant’s scoop and score from 43 yards out following a Strawn fumble with 7:54 left in the contest appeared to put the game out of reach as Richland Springs stretched its lead to 53-34.
But Strawn answered with 3-yard run from Lorenzo Garcia with 6:31 left, then the Coyotes turned the ball over at the Greyhound 20 on a fumble with 4:10 to go. Just 1:06 later Strawn had trimmed the deficit to 53-50 after a 17-yard scoring strike from Parsons to Kyler Tunnell.
Richland Springs again appeared to have created some breathing room, 59-50, with 2:04 remaining on a 23-yard touchdown run by Capps – his longest carry of the night. Strawn responded in 55 seconds, however, as Parsons’ 17-yard scoring toss to Eli cut the Coyote lead to 59-56.
With 1:09 to go, Richland Springs was unable to pick up a first down and run out the clock as Eli picked off a Burkhart pass at the Strawn 31 with 45 seconds left – which led to the late drama.
“We just kept fighting and that’s all we could do” Coach Burkhart said. “(Strawn) Coach (Dewaine) Lee found some weaknesses at times with match-ups and that’s just what we were trying to do, play the match-up game, it was a chess match. Fortunately, we come up with the victory tonight.”
Turnovers have been crucial to the Coyotes’ postseason run, with Richland Springs forcing 14 in four playoff games – and no less than three in any of those outings – after creating 13 during the entire regular season. The Coyotes added three more takeaways Friday night, including recovering a fumble on the initial snap of the contest. Just 1:40 later, Capps scored on a 7-yard run and Richland Springs forced Strawn into catch-up more from the get-go, as the Coyotes never trailed.
“Fortunately we got an early turnover and that helped us get ahead,” Burkhart said. “But you never feel comfortable when you play Strawn.”
Eli scored on a 7-yard run for Strawn on its second possession, but the Greyhounds missed the two-point kick and trailed 7-6.
The Coyotes led 21-14 at the end of the first quarter as the teams continued to trade touchdowns. Burkhart reeled off a 45-yard scoring sprint, Eli followed with a 50-yard touchdown carry and Burkhart threw 28-yard pass for Gossett for the final points of the first period.
Richland Springs was able to extend its lead to 37-20 at halftime thanks to touchdown runs of 1 and 41 yards from Burkhart, while Strawn mustered only a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Eli.
Following a Richland Springs fumble, Strawn had a chance – trailing 29-20 – to close the gap with 48 seconds left in the half, but the opportunity was foiled on dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth-and-17 from the Strawn 39. Burkhart followed with his longest carry of the game two plays later to boost the lead to 17 points with 34 seconds on the clock.
Strawn reduced Richland Springs’ lead to 37-26 on a 60-yard sprint by Eli with 5:52 to go in the third quarter, but the Coyotes responded with a 16-yard scoring scamper from Capps at the 2:26 mark to regain a 45-26 edge.
The Coyotes carried a 45-34 lead into the fourth quarter after a 3-yard scoring run from Garcia.
With the win, No. 5 Richland Springs will face No. 1 Balmorhea (11-1) – a 44-38 winner over No. 2 Groom (12-2) Friday night – in the Class A Division II state championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16.
“It’s so special, but it’s going to be a lot of work,” Burkhart said of playing for a potential 10th state championship. “I just get emotional thinking about it because I don’t deserve this, but God blesses me so much. These kids, to get go back to state, it’s just an amazing feeling. I’m a blessed man and we’re a very blessed team.”
Richland Springs 59, Strawn 56
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Strawn 14 6 14 22 – 56
Rich. Springs 21 16 8 14 – 59
RS: Zane Capps 7 run (Capps pass from Chase Gossett), 8:20, 1st
S: Luke Eli 7 run (kick failed), 6:02. 1st
RS: Landon Burkhart 45 run (Gossett kick), 5:05, 1st
S: Eli 50 run (Max Hopkins kick), 4:48, 1st
RS: Gossett 28 pass from Burkhart (kick failed), 3:04, 1st
RS: Burkhart 1 run (Gossett kick), 7:57, 2nd
S: Eli 1 run (kick failed), 4:40, 2nd
RS: Burkhart 41 run (Gossett kick), 0:34, 2nd
S: Eli 60 run (kick failed), 5:52, 3rd
RS: Capps 16 run (Gossett kick) 2:26, 3rd
S: Lorenzo Garcia 3 run (Garcia kick), 1:44, 3rd
RS: Jadeyn Bryant 43 fumble return (Gossett kick) 7:54, 4th
S: Garcia 3 run (Garcia kick), 6:31, 4th
S: Kyler Tunnell 17 pass from Kadin Parsons (Garcia kick), 3:04, 4th
RS: Capps 23 run (kick failed), 2:04, 4th
S: Eli 17 pass from Parsons (kick blocked), 1:09, 4th
First Downs 20 17
Total Offense 456 394
Rushes-Yards 35-285 35-255
Passing Yards 171 139
Comp-Att-Int 10-22-1 11-20-1
Fumbles Lost 2 2
Penalties-Yards 2-30 5-35
Punts 0 0
RUSHING: Strawn – Luke Eli 24-251, 4 TDs; Lorenzo Garcia 7-33, 2 TDs; Jesse Corona 2-8; Kadin Parsons 2-(-7). Richland Springs – Landon Burkhart 19-195, 3 TDs; Zane Capps 8-54, 3 TDs; Jadeyn Bryant 6-9; Team 2-(-3).
PASSING: Strawn – Parsons 8-19-1-138, 2 TDs; Garcia 1-2-0-33; Eli 1-1-0-0. Richland Springs – Burkhart 10-18-1-104, TD; Bryant 1-2-0-35.
RECEIVING: Strawn – Jade Barrett 4-87; Eli 3-50, TD; Justice Baker 2-9; Garcia 1-27; Kyler Tunnel 1-17, TD. Richland Springs – Chase Gossett 4-83, TD; Bryant 3-26; Capps 2-18; T.J. Grant 2-12.