The East Lincoln Mustangs are riding high after a 42-28 defeat of county rival North Lincoln.
But while the emotional win was great, come Monday, it was back to the drawing board, as they face their toughest opponent in the Southern Piedmont â€” the Lincolnton Wolves.
Pitted against such a dynamic offense, the Mustangs will look to run a ball-control offense to keep the ball out of the hands of talented senior signal-caller Zack Gibson, C.J. Wilson and the play-making receiving corps.
â€œWe need an offensive balance of run/pass and our young kids up front need to grow up fast,â€ East Lincoln head coach Mike Byus said.
Up against senior linebacker Lance Friday, Byus knows his goal of ball-control wonâ€™t be easy, as Friday has impressed the Mustangs coaching staff with his talent.
â€œHeâ€™s like a stallion. He looks big, strong, fast and mean. He looks like the best linebacker weâ€™ve lined up against all year,â€ he said.
East Lincoln has two offensive guards, Will Herron and Tim Webb, out due to injuries. To make matters worse, Clint Hyde, at center, also may miss Fridayâ€™s showdown.
â€œWe had eight, but now there are three out. I have to move some people around to find somebody,â€ Byus said, as he scrambled Tuesday in an effort to solidify his line.
Sam â€˜The Bamâ€™ Justice, a junior fullback, scored a three-yard touchdown against the Knights. He also was a standout blocker, helping Ryan Sykes have a career night.
Byus hopes his defense, led by junior Matt Warren, will play like they did in the second half and not like they did to open the contest.
â€œWeâ€™re like Jekyll and Hyde,â€ he said. â€œWe played our techniques right in the second half. We played them incorrectly in the first half and they scored three times.â€
Earlier in his career, Gibson was criticized for poor decision-making; in his fourth year thatâ€™s no longer the case, a fact not missed by Byus.
â€œHe runs that offense well. Heâ€™s the leader, he gets the ball to the right people at the right times. It seems like he understands the game real well,â€ he said.
Byus believes the Wolves have more speed than any opponent his team has faced all season. For that reason, he feels two points will be key.
â€œWe have to play with discipline on defense and continue to tackle better,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™re fast at every position.â€
The coach knows his team didnâ€™t play as difficult a non-conference schedule as the Wolves. For that reason, heâ€™s hoping his kids will adjust to the high-stakes environment.
â€œWhether we can play with the kind of discipline it takes to play with a good team and whether we can match their intensity,â€ Byus said, explaining what he believes will be the key to the game.
Pointing to the fact, Lincolnton played South Point, Maiden, Shelby and North Gaston, Byus feels his team has to prove theyâ€™re up to the task of taking on an upper-echelon opponent.
â€œTheyâ€™re used to playing high-caliber competition. We havenâ€™t done that week-in and week-out like they have,â€ he said.
by John Mark Brooks