Richland Springs vs. Strawn: Texas six-man football titans clash in Class 1A, DII State Semifinal rematch
DUBLIN — Without a doubt, the Richland Springs Coyotes and the Strawn Greyhounds have been the dominant forces in Class 1A, Division II six-man football since the dawning of the new millennium. The two elite programs have captured 13 state championships since 2001 and stand on the brink of playing for yet another one.
But first, the undefeated defending state champion Coyotes (11-0) and eighth-ranked Strawn (11-2) must battle in a State Semifinal rematch at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Dublin’s Bob and Norma Cervetto Stadium to earn a trip to Jerry’s World in Arlington. One of these two teams will face the winner of the other State Semifinal between top-ranked Balmorhea (10-1) and second-ranked Groom (12-1) in the Class A Division II state championship game at AT&T Stadium at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Despite the lofty rankings for both Balmorhea and Groom, it would be easy to consider the clash between Richland Springs and Strawn as the “true” state championship game. After all, the two programs have advanced to the title game 15 times since 2001, winning 13 crowns. The Coyotes captured their Texas high school football record ninth state championship last season after defeating Strawn, 62-14, in the State Semifinals.
“This is what it’s all about,” Richland Springs head coach Jerry Burkhart said. “The road to the state championship game goes through Strawn and Richland Springs again. But this is what makes it fun, you have two great programs in a semifinal game where you try and play hard and get to state.”
Interestingly, the two vaunted programs have only faced each other six times in the postseason, beginning with Strawn’s thrilling 56-54 shootout victory in the 2003 State Semifinal at Brownwood’s Gordon Wood Stadium. Coming off Richland Springs’ semifinal win last season, the series stands tied at 3-3.
“They have a good program, they do a good job, and they win a lot of games,” said Strawn head coach Dewaine Lee, as the Greyhounds will be looking for their third state title in four seasons. “But we want to get to the state championship game and play for a state title. That’s our goal, that’s why we work out, that’s why we do it. The kids have high expectations, so does the community and so do we.”
After winning back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018, the Greyhounds were looking for a three-peat before being denied by Richland Springs. Strawn’s 2019 campaign was featured in a documentary entitled “Texas 6” focusing on the Greyhound football program being the spine of the community. The series depicts the spirit of a small town and a team that shows up for one another on and off the field, which became available for streaming on CBS All Access on Thanksgiving Day.
“We appreciate it, but it ain’t going to win the game Friday night,” Lee said. “We need to limit our mistakes, and I think we need to block a little bit better than we did. They have a good team, and they do a good job coming off blocks and putting kids in position. We have to do a good job of putting our kids in good position to make plays.”
In last week’s classic rivalry clash against seventh-ranked Calvert in the State Quarterfinal at Hico’s historic Tiger Stadium, Richland Springs came up with big play after big play to force five Trojan turnovers and capitalize on the opportunities to build a commanding 40-8 first half lead.
In what has become practically an annual postseason showdown between Calvert and Richland Springs, the Coyotes lead the series, 9-3, including a hard-fought 34-29 decision last season — the closest challenge on the way to their record ninth state title.
“Those kids from Calvert fight hard, and we knew we had our hands full,” said Burkhart, who has led Richland Springs to 19 straight district titles while posting a 218-10 win-loss record. “But I’m just proud of our kids. We had an awesome first half. Our kids came out and they were on fire.
“We told them all week that they’ve got to play hard, you’ve got to win every down. Our kids deserve the credit. They worked their tails off this week. We’re just so blessed, and God has given us an opportunity to play another week. We just need to go out and take advantage of it.”
After losing two games early in the season, Strawn will be riding an eight-game winning streak without barely being challenged in the playoffs, outscoring opponents, 144-30, in postseason wins over Walnut Springs, Throckmorton and 11th-ranked Fannindel.
On the flip side, Richland Springs has faced a more formidable path in the postseason, overcoming challenges from Blanket, 56-30, Oglesby, 70-38, and Calvert.
Led by senior quarterback Landon Burkhart, the Coyote offense has featured a balanced attack while averaging 59 points per game. Burkhart has thrown for 1,050 yards and 22 touchdowns — spreading the ball around to junior Zane Capps, junior Jadeyn Bryant and senior Chase Gossett — while rushing for 1,075 yards and 21 scores.
Defensively, Bryant leads Richland Springs with 63 tackles, 7.5 sacks and nine fumble recoveries, followed by Burkhart and Capps with 42 takedowns apiece.
“Every year, our expectations are to get to AT&T Stadium and win the state championship,” Burkhart said. “But we know this week will be just as tough. Dewaine Lee is a great coach and we have another chore this week. They want to get there just as bad as we do, so we have got to do to work.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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