While everyone has taken notice of Lincolnton, the No. 2 team in the state, another county team has quietly put together quite a run.
The East Lincoln Mustangs have won six of their last seven games, after beginning the season 0-4. It takes time for a team to learn a new coach, such was the case with first-year head coach Mike Byus.
But once everyone got on the same page, cut down on their mental mistakes and became better acclimated to a completely new offense, things have been just fine.
This week, No. 11 Ashe County (7-3) comes calling. Byus uses one word repeatedly to describe the Huskiesâ€”big. For that reason, heâ€™s hoping players like Ryan Sykes and Thomas â€˜The Silent Assassinâ€™ Huntley will be able to utilize their speed to overcome the size discrepancy.
â€œWe have to find a way to get our play-makers the ball in space. Those guys are so big they could take up sideline-to-sideline,â€ he said.
For the Mustangs to record a first round win, Back-up quarterback Payton Brady, who was 5-for-5 passing for 100 yards against Bessemer City, will have to prove heâ€™s ready to lead the team.
Brady is 11-of-28 passing with 176 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He also has three rushing touchdowns.
This coming after Greyson Schram, who thrown for 506 yards and seven touchdowns in the past three games, sustained a spiral fracture of his right hand after hitting it on one of his offensive linemanâ€™s helmets.
Byus is hoping to use all 53 1/3 yards to try to play to his teamâ€™s strengths.
â€œItâ€™s the biggest team weâ€™ve seen this year. Theyâ€™re tall and big, so weâ€™re going to have utilize the full width of the field,â€ he said.
The Huskies run a 5-2 defense with the defensive secondary in pure man-to-man. In the game films Byus has watched, they have played bump and run with their corners with no safety help over top. If that holds true, Huntley could have a huge night.
â€œIt took us awhile to learn how to deal with the assets South Iredell had. They were quick and aggressive and for us as an offense to figure out how to attack what they were trying to do to us,â€ Byus said, hoping his team wonâ€™t struggle to adjust like they did at the beginning of their previous game.
On offense, Ashe County will run different variations out of the I-formation with power runs and bootlegs being their bread and butter. Occasionally, just to mix it up some theyâ€™ll go to a four wide receiver look with one back.
â€œWe have to find out whether we can handle their size and power. Itâ€™s pretty much speed versus power,â€ Byus said.
The No. 1 player on the Mustangsâ€™ radar is Huskiesâ€™ junior quarterback Eathan Goodman (6â€™1â€ 175), who Byus feels is capable of making big plays.
â€œTheyâ€™re not going to run around us, except for the quarterback. Heâ€™s quick and faster than anybody else they have and he makes people miss. He also throws the ball well on the run.â€
With it having been Blank years, since East Lincoln has hosted a first round playoff game, excitement and anticipation will be in the airâ€”the Mustangs canâ€™t worry about either.
â€œTheyâ€™re going to be excited. Our community is excited. They have some things planned, but our kids have to focus whatâ€™s happening in between the lines to play the game and not get caught up in the hoopla,â€ Byus said. â€œHow well we can handle the playoffs itself and the hype going on around it. We got to play, the game has to be played and can we focus on playing each play without getting distracted,â€ Byus wonders.
by John Mark Brooks