Unbeaten Mustangs gallop into playoff’s third round
DENVER – There are eight teams remaining in the N.C. 2A football playoffs. Two – East Lincoln High and Tarboro – are unbeaten and will have to stay that way to be a state champion.
But, first things first.
Before East Lincoln (13-0) reaches a state title game, it must clear two other hurdles. The first is a third-round home game at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 against Thomasville. East Lincoln reached the third round by beating Boonville Starmount 37-24 on Nov. 9.
“We were balanced with the run and pass,” East Lincoln coach Mike Byus said. “Our defense made key stops when they needed to.”
The Mustangs won after forcing a safety – on a tackle by Dallas Smith – with less than four minutes left. Scott McMichael’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal clinched what was no easy victory over Starmount (10-2), which beat East Lincoln in the first round last season.
“We needed a game where we had to play all 48 minutes,” Byus said. “The difference (between this year and last) was (having) a quarterback with another year of experience under his belt.”
He was referring to senior Garrett Young, who was 14-of-20 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Young threw a 31-yard go-ahead touchdown to Chaz Surratt late in the third quarter.
“We try to take whatever we think is open on every down,” Byus said.
East Lincoln also rushed for 213 yards, including 106 and a touchdown by Dominique Smith and scoring runs by Marquis Pharr and McMichael.
The Mustangs held a slim 21-14 advantage at halftime, but Starmount tied it early in the second half.
East Lincoln’s defense limited the Rams to three points in the fourth quarter. Byus said Jesse Earnhardt and Surratt, a freshman, have key roles in the Mustangs’ success.
“(Surratt has) played six positions for us this year,” Byus said of Surratt. “That was a great (touchdown) catch. He’s helped us in the passing game, the running game, (on defense) and when Garrett was hurt, in the passing game throwing it.”
Young has completed 183 of 244 passes for 3,158 yards and 39 touchdowns. Versatile Surratt has passed for 275 yards and four touchdowns, rushed for 277 yards and six scores, and caught 47 passes for 912 yards and nine touchdowns.
Earnhardt has a team-leading 60 receptions for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns. East Lincoln is averaging 43.8 points and has topped 35 points each of the past six games.
A glance at East Lincoln’s win-loss record reveals it’s a pretty good team. Look at Thomasville’s record and you may wonder how a 6-7 team advanced this far into the playoffs.
The Bulldogs were a deceptive 4-7 in the regular season, and in the playoffs edged Maiden 27-24 on the road and crushed Lincolnton 55-14 at home.
Thomasville’s pre-conference schedule was perhaps the state’s toughest. They lost their first six games and were outscored 177-51 in that span. But the games were against standout teams in higher classifications – North Davidson (currently with a 13-0 record), Mount Airy (12-1), T.W. Andrews (12-1), Southeast Guilford (7-5), Davie County (9-4) and High Point (9-3).
Thomasville has since won six of seven games. The Bulldogs use a run-heavy offense for good reason. Running back Gabe Brockett has gained more than 300 yards in each of the past four games and the offensive line has blocked effectively.
Brockett gained 355 yards and scored four touchdowns in last week’s playoff victory. He also set the school record with a 433-yard performance this season. Freshman T.J. Mitchell enhanced the Bulldogs’ running game by gaining 121 yards and scoring three touchdowns last week.
They’ll go against an East Lincoln defense that was led last week by McMichael’s 14 tackles (which bumped his season total to 125), Billy Misenheimer’s nine tackles and a sack, James O’Keefe’s 11 tackles and Smith’s seven tackles and a safety.
“We are certainly excited to be among the eight teams remaining and among the only four in the west (bracket),” Byus said. “There is always pressure involved. You just have to block it out and go play. It should be a good crowd and an awesome atmosphere for a ball game.”
– Staff writer Aaron Burns contributed to this article