- Jeff Miller
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Nigel Bates caught the pass from Haustin Burkhart, the two of them running in sync toward the left sideline, and Bates rumbled around the corner of the Robert Lee defense to turn upfield for a 41-yard touchdown.
That gave Richland Springs a 56-6 lead with 3:28 to play in the third period and prompted public address announcer John Reed to utter the words many Richland Springs fans felt were overdue: "Well, that's the ballgame, folks."
The Coyotes' eighth consecutive touchdown of the game built the home team's lead from 44 points to 50. And Texas rules for six-man high school football include a mercy rule that ends a game when the winning team leads by at least 45 points at halftime or later.
In six-man lingo, the loser got "45'ed."
Granger Huntress, who runs sixmanfootball.com, estimates about half of six-man games in Texas end with a team getting 45'ed.
Opinions vary on whether a winning team should go for the TKO. Richland Springs coach Jerry Burkhart is among those who press on to reach the 45-point limit.
"Our philosophy is to make plays. Our philosophy is to score touchdowns," Burkhart said. "I'm not going to tell our guys, 'Y'all let up.'"
Which has created an expectation among Coyotes fans. Since Burkhart became coach in 2003, Richland Springs is 76-2 and ended 60 of those wins early.
Burkhart said Richland Springs fans are supportive but spoiled by the program's success. He said one fan asked before a game whether they could get it over early so he could get home to watch the 10 p.m. TV news.
Tye Adams is in his third season as coach at Gordon, a perennial powerhouse, and has changed his outlook on the rule since he took over.
"My first year, I thought the mercy rule was mean," Adams said. But last season, he lost his starting quarterback to injury late in a game that was well in hand. "After that, I swore I'd get games over as fast as I can."
Coylin Grimes, the coach of 2002 state champ Calvert, has reasons for playing on. Calvert is located in the eastern half of the state, and most of its neighbors play 11-man football. Many varsity games involve long travel, and junior varsity opponents close to home are hard to find.
"We tend to try to stretch the game a little bit, give some of our younger players an opportunity to go out there," Grimes said. "We sometimes have to travel three, three and a half hours to play. We don't like to travel three hours, go out there and play 20 minutes of football, and come back."
The rule goes only so far in preventing some mismatches from getting out of hand. Consider scores like 96-0, 84-0 and 83-0 during Richland Springs' championship runs the past two years.
Valerie Phillips is one of the volunteers who works the Richland Springs concession stand. The staff has learned to be prepared for games that end early.
Said Phillips: "The cooks do a good job of keeping an eye on the scoreboard."
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas.
Fans of high-scoring football games, eat your heart out. Texas six-man football enforces a mercy rule that ends the game if a team leads by 45 or more at the half or later -- and nearly half of all games end that way.