25 Days of Champions -- 2016 Richland Springs

Leman Saunders

Six-man expert

Tonight, the last two teams punched their tickets to Jerry’s World and the 1A state championship, so today would be a good time to look back on one of last year’s state title winner…the Richland Springs Coyotes and their record-tying eighth state championship.

Having won the state title in 2015, coach Jerry Burkhart had five starters back on both sides of the ball, and the Coyotes were easily everyone’s top pick to repeat as state champions. They entered the season as the #1 team in division two and never relinquished that position.

Key players returning for Coach Burkhart were junior 1st team All-State running back Walker Tippie, junior 1st team All-State linebacker Hutton Lusty, senior 1st team All-State nose guard Colt Carlisle, junior 2nd team All-State quarterback Jordan Burkhart, and sophomore HM All-State tight end Cameron Parham. To say the Coyotes were loaded was an understatement.

They rolled through their schedule, mercy-ruling all nine regular season opponents. In the playoffs, they crushed Walnut Springs in bi-district 74-8 and then faced a tough Milford team in the second round. Milford, led by sophomore spreadback Taron Smith, put some points up on the Coyotes and gave them their first full four quarter game of the season, but Richland won by 35, 78-43. Next up was a big game with Calvert and the game was tight until Calvert’s star spreadback, Ja'Quan Thompson, hurt his knee, rendering his running game virtually useless. Richland Springs rolled to a mercy rule win 86-36. In the semifinals they faced off with a pass happy, but very tough team Crowell, who had been to three-straight DI title games. Now in DII Crowell gave the Coyotes a game in a rainy night in Jim Ned. The game lasted over four hours but in the end Richland won by 30, 92-62.

This set up a big showdown with the west’s representative, Balmorhea.

The Balmorhea Bears were a strong, but young team that had great defensive skills. Marcos Mendoza and Kyle Garcia were a terrific one-two combination out of the backfield, with quarterback Marco Martinez a solid young play caller and passer for the Bears. Mendoza was also one of the state’s top defenders as well.

They entered the state game having won 14-straight games and coming off a hard fought 74-52 win over Valley in the semifinals. Head coach Vance Jones would be playing in his sixth state championship game with his fourth different team, having gone 1-1 with Marathon (‘75, ‘76), 0-1 with Sanderson (‘02), and 2-0 with Garden City (‘09, ‘10). Richland Springs would be entering the game on a 28-game win streak.

An interesting thing about this season was that ESPN producer Scott Harves was following a few select division two teams around, filming and interviewing people, putting together a documentary on six-man football. Two of the schools he focused on were Richland Springs and Balmorhea. The film crew had been at the semifinal games and at least one regular season game for each school and was now given a state game showdown between the two, which would only help aid their film.

State Championship Game – Wednesday Dec. 14th 4:00pm at AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Balmorhea received the kickoff to start the game and drove down the field for the first touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Marco Martinez to Danny Vasquez, a Marco Mendoza’s kick gave the Bears an 8-0 lead at 7:58 in the first quarter.

Richland Springs would answer, taking just three plays to tie the game up on a 50-yard pass from Walker Tippie to Traven Day.

Not to be outdone, just two plays later, Balmorhea struck again, on a 47-yard pass from Martinez to Mendoza giving the Bears a 16-8 lead.

The anything you can do I can do better contest continued when the Coyotes, on their next possession, scored on a two-play drive, culminating with a 58-yard touchdown run by Tippie and we were all knotted up at 16, with still 5:32 left in the 1st quarter.

Finally, someone’s defense showed up and Richland Springs managed to hold the Bears, forcing a punt. On the first play of their drive, Tippie burst loose for a 41-yard touchdown run, and Richland Springs would have their first lead of the day, 24-16.

Balmorhea then put together a seven-play 71-yard drive with a steady dose of runs by runningback Kyle Garcia, who rushed 36 yards for a touchdown, as time ran out on the first quarter of play. The PAT failed and at the end of the first quarter, Richland Springs led 24-22.

A Bears onside kick attempt went out of bounds and the Coyotes would start their fourth drive of the game at their own 30-yard line. Like their last possession they needed only one play, as Tippie dashed 50-yards for his third rushing touchdown on the night extending their lead to 32-22 just 12 seconds into the second quarter.

Balmorhea began their next drive at their 20-yard line and moved the ball only six yards before facing a fourth-and-nine. The Bears went for it and Kyle Garcia’s pass fell incomplete, and the Coyotes were back in business at the Bear 26.

The Bears defense slowed the Coyotes down, getting two big sacks and forcing a fourth-and-23, but Tippie turned it on, racing 34 yards for his fourth rushing touchdown making the score 40-22, with 5:24 left in the first half.

Balmorhea responded by marching the ball downfield on a six-play, 60-yard drive that ate up 2:25 of the clock, as Marco Mendoza threw a four-yard strike to Eric Carrasco. The Mendoza 2-point kick was good and the score was now 40-30, with 2:59 to play in the half.

That score appeared to breathe some new life into the Bears. They forced the Coyotes to turn the ball over on downs, however, on the Bears first play after the stop, a Martinez pass was picked off by Tippie. With only 14 ticks left in the half, Balmorhea was able to keep Richland Springs out of the endzone and the halftime score stood at 40-30.

It had been a great game thus far, with Balmorhea hanging in there against the favored Coyotes. The second half would prove a little different.

Richland Springs received the kick to start the second half and started at their own 22-yard line. In a prelude of things to come, on their first play, Tippie rushed 58 yards for a touchdown, his fifth of the game and the Coyotes were back comfortably in front, 48-30.

Tippie then recovered a fumble on the Bears ensuing possession and on their fourth play Tippie ran 37-yards for a touchdown, extending the lead to 56-30.

Balmorhea would have an 11-play drive on their next possession, only to turn it over on downs at the Coyote 13, Then, on the next play, Tippie busted out another 63-yards for a touchdown Richland Springs now lead 64-30.

For the third-straight time the Coyotes would stop the Bears drive, this time again on a failed fourth down attempt, and the third quarter would end with Richland in possession and up 64-30. The Coyotes had run eight plays (two in the current possession at the end of the quarter) rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns in the third alone.

The fourth quarter was more of the same, but with Balmorhea scratching out 20 more points. With the first play of the fourth quarter, third of the drive, Tippie hit Hutton Lusty for an 11-yard pass and catch, and the score was 72-30.

Balmorhea took one play to score on the ensuing possession, when Martinez hooked up with Mendoza for a 61-yard passing touchdown to 72-36.

The Bears held Richland Springs on downs, then scored their own quick touchdown on their first play, on a pass from Kyle Garcia to Eric Carrasco and the lead was cut to 72-42.

Like a broken recording, another one-play drive from Tippie, as he raced ran 33-yards for a touchdown pushing the lead out to 80-42.

Balmorhea took a whole three plays to score on their next possession, a 35-yard pass from Garcia to Avery Mendoza, slicing the lead again to 30, 80-50, with 6:06 left in the game.

Then, you guessed it.

On their first play, Richland Springs scored on a 23-yard run, this time by Lusty and it was 88-50. On what would be their final possession, Balmorhea drove down field, but turned it over Richland Springs 18-yard line on downs.

Three plays later, the game was over when Lusty ran 41 yards to paydirt, for a 44-point lead. Martin’s PAT kick gave them a 46-point lead and mercilessly it was over, with 2:03 left in the fourth quarter. Final score: Richland Springs 96, Balmorhea 50.

Richland Springs had six 1-play drives in the game. Walker Tippie had an amazing game, rushing for 414 yards and eight touchdowns on just 15 carries. He also was 4-6-0 for 62 yards and one touchdown passing. Defensively, he had an interception and a fumble recovery to go along with his 10 tackles. Jared Martin converted every one of his PAT kicks, going 12-for-12, the most kicks made, while also converting 100% in a state championship game.

Richland Springs out-rushed Balmorhea 530-177, but only out gained the Bears 592-471 in total yards thanks to 294 yards passing for Balmorhea. Walker Tippie would earn Offensive MVP honors and Jordan Burkhart would earn Defensive MVP honors.

-Tippie’s 414 yards rushing is fourth best in a six-man state championship game, his 8 rushing touchdowns is tied with two others for the most in a six-man state championship game.
-Brandon Tharp led Richland Springs in tackles in the state game with 13, as he made some big tackles all night especially on special teams.
-Scott Harves’ film “6-man” still airs on the ESPN family of networks from time to time. It featured schools Harrold, Calvert, Mount Calm, Balmorhea, and Richland Springs
-Richland Springs 29-game win streak would be snapped in the first game of the 2017 season by Happy