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Mustangs battle for a trip to the state championship game today

Ray Gora / Lincoln Times-News
Senior wide receiver Jesse Earnhardt runs with the ball against Thomasville.

MICHAEL GEBELEIN
Sports Editor

No.1 Madison County Patriots (13-1, 6-1 WHC) at No.1 East Lincoln Mustangs (14-0, 7-0 SPC)
The Madison County Patriots are in unprecedented territory for today’s 2A West Regional Championship game against the undefeated East Lincoln Mustangs.
The Patriots, the Western Highlands Conference runner up, are having the best season in school history and are on an eight-game win streak. Madison took its only loss of the year against Hendersonville, the Western Highlands Conference champion, 44-21 in the sixth week of the season. The team’s three playoffs wins so far this season are the first in school history.
The winner of today’s game will face either Tarboro or South Columbus for the 2A state championship at Wake Forest University on December 1.
The Patriots had a 28-84 overall record and a 10-53 conference record in the 10 seasons before this year.
Madison opened this year’s playoffs with wins over Mountain Heritage and Owen, two of the Patriots’ conference opponents, in the first two rounds. They defeated Shelby 28-21 last week.
“They’re playing well together,” East Lincoln head coach Mike Byus said. “They’ve had a good group of kids come through and they’re working hard and fighting to keep it. They’re big and aggressive. But you expect to see a good bunch when you’re in the fourth round.”
Madison has an all-around threat in senior running back and linebacker Deryck Hilemon. He has 1,118 season rushing yards and 13 touchdowns as the team’s second best running back and leads the Patriots with 8.8 tackles per game, according to reports in the Asheville Citizen-Times.
The Patriots average 32 points per game while allowing just 11 points to their opponents. Byus said Madison’s 3-5 defense will be a challenge for the Mustangs’ offense today.
“They get after it; they have blitzes coming from everywhere,” he said. “We have to be patient and not turn the ball over and take what they’re giving us.”
East Lincoln’s run game was not as potent last week against Thomasville (27-60 yards) as it was against Starmount (35-213 yards) in the third week of the playoffs, but quarterback Garrett Young’s 13 completions for 251 yards and two touchdowns made up the difference. Freshman linebacker Chaz Surratt’s pick-six in the fourth quarter helped seal the Mustangs’ win over Thomasville.
Young (197-296-4, 3,437 yards, 43 touchdowns) will likely surpass the 3,500 yard mark for the season in today’s game and Surratt is nearing the 1,000 receiving yards mark for the season. Senior wide receiver Jesse Earnhardt leads the team with 66 receptions for 1,249 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior receiver Tyler Brock caught two touchdown passes against Thomasville and has 816 season receiving yards with 13 touchdowns.

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