Special to LTN
DENVER — Led by Garret Young’s 351 yards through the air and a balanced running attack that produced four rushing scores, the East Lincoln Mustangs accumulated over 500 yards of total offense en route to a 35-21 victory over the Newton-Conover Red Devils to open the 2012 season at David Clark Stadium Friday night.
Young and the Mustangs wasted no time on the opening drive of the game. Although it was Young’s arm the drove the team the bulk of the field, it was the long legs of junior wide receiver Damisho Finandis that followed his blocks and hurdled a final defender on 32-yard reverse to the left side to put the ball in the end zone, giving the Mustangs a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest.
Newton-Conover answered with a ground attack of its own. Led by senior quarterback Kevin Cline, the Red Devils pounded the ball deep into Mustang territory with a first-and-goal at the 5. With the ball at the 1-yard line, an illegal formation call pushed the Red Devils back to the 6-yard line on third down. They failed to punch it in on third down but Cline plunged across the goal line on fourth down from the 1-yard line to even the score with four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
On the next drive, East Lincoln and Young marched down the field to put seven more points on the board. The biggest play of the drive came on a fourth-and-long when Young completed a drive-preserving pass to freshman wide receiver Chaz Surratt. Senior running back Marquis Pharr capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run up the middle.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Newton-Conover return man weaved his way through would-be tacklers before he fumbled at midfield and allowed the Mustangs to recover the loose ball and put the possession back to the high-powered Mustangs offense.
It took only three minutes before the Mustangs capitalized on the special teams blunder by Newton-Conover when junior running back Dominique Smith took a Young handoff right up the gut for 8 yards and six points.
Cline and the Red Devils’ running game responded on their next drive. Newton-Conover dodged a bullet when Cline fumbled after gaining 18 yards on a keeper. Luckily for Cline, a red and white jersey pounced on the loose ball. Cline made up for his miscue with consecutive 12-yard gains on the ground, the second of which ended in the end zone cutting the Mustangs lead to 21-14.
East Lincoln regained possession with just over four minutes remaining in the half with all three of their timeouts. Head coach Mike Byus and the Mustangs ran their hurry-up offense as usual, but this time the Red Devils were ready for it, and stifled the drive on a fourth-and-1 at the Mustangs own 32-yard line. Newton-Conover took over on downs with 1:21 left in the half but couldn’t put any points on the board before the break.
The third quarter almost seemed like a different game. Neither offense could muster any points. The Mustangs zeroed in on Cline and the Red Devils managed to make Young look human for 12 minutes.
Young and the Mustangs attack came back strong in the fourth quarter. With just under eight minutes left in the game, Young dumped a screen to Pharr who scampered 41 yards for a score, or so everyone thought. An illegal hands-to-the-face call at the 1-yard line erased the score and put the ball on the 11. Not to be denied, the Mustangs pounded the ball with Trent Henderson for 10 yards and then handed it off to Scott McMichael who finished the job for the score.
The Mustangs continued to hold the Red Devils offense in check throughout the better part of the quarter, which allowed Young to stretch the lead even further. Young put the game out of reach with a 34-yard bomb to Surratt down the left sideline. The Mustangs led 35-14 with just over five minutes to go.
Cline managed to rally his teammates down the field one last time and score on a keeper from the 1-yard line, but it wasn’t enough with only 50 seconds left before the final whistle. All Young had to do on the next drive was take a couple knees to put the victory away for the Mustangs.
Young finished 26-34 with 351 yards passing and one touchdown pass. Surratt (eight catches for 127 yards) and Jesse Earnhardt (eight catches for 118 yards) each had monster games receiving. Pharr led the Mustangs with 35 yards rushing.
Surratt’s performance caught the most attention, but his head coach was the least surprised by his outing.
“He’s fun to watch,” Byus said of his freshman wide receiver. “Players can play, and he’s a player.”
Cline led Newton-Conover with 120 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“This was the first time we’ve played a full 48 minutes so we were dragging a little bit, but they kept their head in it,” Byus said. “We made some plays when we needed to. I’m proud of them.”