by Cliff Mehrtens

DENVER – The last thing coach Mike Byus said to his East Lincoln High football players before they left the locker room to play the N.C. 2A championship Dec. 1 was the same he’d said a lot of times.

“Let’s each play as hard as we can for 48 minutes and see what happens.”

The Mustangs returned to the locker room the same way they had in the previous 15 games – victorious. East Lincoln rallied to beat Tarboro 24-20 at Wake Forest University and win the first state championship in the program’s history.

The Mustangs (16-0) capped their first undefeated season against a previously unbeaten Tarboro team (14-1) that had made five straight trips to the 2A championship game and had won the last three, including a 39-36 victory against Lincolnton in 2011.

“That’s what makes this even sweeter,” said Byus, who won his first championship in a 23-year career that includes stints at Raleigh Athens Drive and Robbinsville. “What makes this special is the way this group of players and coaches came together to achieve their best. Each week, regardless of the opponent, our kids prepared to play. I can count on one hand the number of practices we had where (coaches) weren’t satisfied.”

East Lincoln, not rattled by the championship setting, needed only 90 seconds to drive for a touchdown (a 3-yard run by Marquis Pharr) on its first possession against Tarboro. The Mustangs recovered two fumbles inside their own 20, and built a 17-6 halftime lead on Garrett Young’s 3-yard touchdown pass to freshman Chaz Surratt and Cody Petersen’s 30-yard field goal.

Tarboro rallied in the third quarter and intercepted two Young passes. The Vikings scored two touchdowns to take a 20-17 lead midway through the quarter.

The teams battled into the fourth quarter, when East Lincoln’s championship mettle emerged. Momentum had swung to Tarboro, whose fans bounced and yelled joyously.

The Mustangs, despite the noise, the pressure and the task, covered 80 yards in a 10-play drive for the go-ahead score. Young, a senior, threw his 45th touchdown pass of the season, a 13-yard slant to Tyler Brock, for a touchdown that gave East Lincoln a 24-20 lead with just under eight minutes left.

“We trust each other and we play for each other,” Young said. “It still hasn’t hit me yet and I don’t think it’s sunk in. But it’s a great accomplishment, something we’ll never forget.”

The touchdown gave East Lincoln the lead, but didn’t bury Tarboro. The Vikings drove from their 27-yard line to the East Lincoln 20, twice converting fourth-down plays to keep the drive alive.

Tarboro faced a fourth-and-2 and pitched the ball to Quentin Roberson, who finished with 203 rushing yards. But East Lincoln defensive lineman Dallas Lawing disrupted the blocking, allowing linebackers Scott McMichael and Billy Misenheimer to burst through and drop Roberson for a 5-yard loss.

The ball – and the state’s 2A title – changed hands.

Young, who passed for 196 yards and two touchdowns, was voted the game’s most valuable player. Jesse Earnhardt, who caught seven passes and had 162 all-purpose yards, was named the most outstanding offensive player. Lawing, a sophomore, made nine tackles, including three for losses. He was voted most valuable defensive player. Lawing had plenty of defensive help from McMichael (nine tackles, forced fumble and a recovery), Surratt (eight tackles) and Christian Tyson-Bryant (eight tackles).

“The kids just enjoyed playing and practicing the game,” Byus said. “Everyone is not going to have a great day every day, but they didn’t have many bad ones. A lot of them were perfectionists and they didn’t like to make mistakes.”

The victory eased some of the pain of losing the title game four years ago.

“When we went in 2008, everything happened so fast that week,” Byus said. “I think it was Wednesday before I started thinking about football because of all the logistics and preparation. This year, I told the players and coaches that win, lose or draw, we need to slow down and enjoy everything.”

East Lincoln’s players engulfed each other in hugs, took turns rubbing the championship trophy and mugged for cameras. They weren’t in any hurry to leave the field-for good reason.

When Byus met his team for the final time in the locker room, he didn’t have a lot of words left. But they were sincere.

“I told them I loved them,” he said. “And I was proud of them.”

East Lincoln High football 2012 roster

No. Name Position Class

1 Domonique Smith RB/LB Junior

2 Damarius Valentine RB/DB Sophomore

3 Jake Driver WR Senior

5 Marquis Pharr RB Senior

7 Garrett Young QB Senior

8 Justin Rhodes LB Junior

9 Christian Tyson-Bryant WR/DL Sophomore

12 Chazz Surratt WR/DB Freshman

14 Cody Mocilan LB Junior

15 Carson Philemon QB Sophomore

17 Cory Petersen K Senior

20 Clay Hodges WR/DB Senior

21 Jesse Earnhardt WR/DB Senior

22 James O’Keefe DB Senior

23 Colton Banks RB Freshman

24 Devin Douglas WR/DB Senior

27 Chris Tomberlin WR Sophomore

28 Moses Boyter DB Junior

31 Damishio Finandis DB Junior

32 Trent Henderson LB Senior

33 Bruce Rohr WR Senior

40 Caleb Brooks LB/RB Sophomore

42 Malik Nixon RB Junior

43 Max McClure DL Senior

44 Scott McMichael LB Senior

49 Billy Misenheimer DB Junior

50 Covan White OL Sophomore

51 Alec Ford OL/DL Junior

52 Dallas Lawing OL/DL Sophomore

53 Bailey George DL Sophomore

54 Brandon Woodard OL/DL Junior

55 Caleb Campbell OL/DL Senior

58 Derek Hilgert OL/LB Senior

60 Colin Rohr OL Senior

61 Blake Strupp K Freshman

64 Grant Bishop OL Sophomore

66 Jake O’Brien OL Junior

68 Austin Lunceford OL Freshman

71 Tanner Windell DL Senior

72 Dallas Smith DL Senior

73 Colton Stortz OL/DL Senior

75 Coriyo Boyd DL Junior

77 Cory Smith OL/DL Junior

80 Austin Buchanan WR Sophomore

81 Tyler Brock WR Senior

82 Nick Pizi WR Junior

84 Andrew Yount WR Senior

88 Jarod Moore WR Junior

90 Tristin Dennis DL Sophomore

Head coach: Mike Byus

Assistant coaches: Dave Lubowicz (linebackers and defensive coordinator); Chris Matile (defensive line); Ryan Goggio (linebackers); Matt Gallagher (defensive backs); Steve Goggio (wide receivers); David Brehm (offensive line); Carl Hawkins (running backs);  Kris Byus (quarterbacks); Chip Stewart (strength coach); Patrick Sheehan (athletic trainer)

East Lincoln High’s 2012 season

Date Opponent Score

Dec. 1 Tarboro Won, 24-20**

Nov. 23 Madison Won, 31-14*

Nov. 16 Thomasville Won, 28-12*

Nov. 9 Starmount Won, 37-24*

Nov. 2 Wheatmore Won, 49-0*

Oct. 26 Cherryville Won, 63-6

Oct. 19 Gastonia Highland Won, 61-0

Oct. 12 at Lake Norman Charter Won, 35-21

Oct. 5 at West Lincoln Won, 40-20

Sept. 28 Lincolnton Won, 13-8

Sept. 21 at North Lincoln Won, 33-0

Sept. 14 Bessemer City Won, 41-12

Sept. 7 East Gaston Won, 54-30

Aug. 31 at Catawba Bandys Won, 48-20

Aug. 24 Hopewell Won, 61-59

Aug. 17 Newton-Conover Won, 35-21

** state championship

* playoff game