2A State Championship: East Lincoln Mustangs (15-0) vs. Tarboro Vikings (14-0) at Wake Forest University
Two things stand between the East Lincoln Mustangs and the first 2A state championship in school history and a perfect season on Saturday at Wake Forest University’s BB&T Field.
The first — four quarters of football — is nothing new to the team. But the second, the undefeated and back-to-back-to-back state champion Tarboro Vikings, poses a challenge unlike any the Mustangs have faced in their record breaking run through the 2012 season.
The Vikings are making their fifth trip to the state championship game in as many years, with three wins in a row. Tarboro won last year’s title game 39-36 over Lincolnton, with a little help from current Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s four touchdowns.
East Lincoln head coach Mike Byus said the Tarboro defense, along with Ohio State commit Tyquan Lewis, will challenge the Mustangs’ spread offense. The Viking defense has completed four shutouts this year, most recently defeating South Columbus 46-0 in the 2A East Regional Championship game last week.
“They don’t have to bring extra pressure because their defensive line is so fast that they can get pressure on you without bringing blitzes,” he said. “They’re in a 4-4 scheme, but we may see something a little bit different because people get into different sets to cover a pass offense because they don’t see that as often. We may see a double safety look instead of a single safety look, something like that.”
But if the game comes down to a battle of linemen, Byus said he thinks the Mustangs may benefit, but that his team faces a definite speed deficit.
“I hope it becomes a battle up front; I think we might have an advantage there,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ll have an advantage in speed. I think we’re a little bigger and a little stronger up front.”
The Mustangs are known for their passing game, but the team had 191 rushing yards in last week’s regional championship win over Madison and 2,269 rushing yards on the season.
“We try to go into games with a balanced gameplan,” Byus said. “The bottom line is you have to take what’s working and what they’re giving you. Madison was giving us a few things in the run game and we just stayed patient.”
Tarboro and East Lincoln’s basic statistics are nearly mirror images of each other. Tarboro and East Lincoln both average around 42 points per game and 16 points allowed per game.
The similarities end there.
Tarboro works out of a Straight-T offense, with a focus on running plays and misdirection. The Mustangs have the most prolific passer in Lincoln County history in senior quarterback Garrett Young (208-320-5 3,555 yards, 45 touchdowns) and two 1,000 yard receivers in senior Jesse Earnhardt (71-1,270 yards 13 touchdowns) and freshman Chaz Surratt (50-1,033 11 touchdowns). Senior Tyler Brock is Young’s third-favorite receiver with 46 season receptions for 838 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Byus said the Mustangs have been methodical, as usual, in preparing for Saturday’s game, despite the added pressure the final game of the season brings.
“The kids have done a good job of staying calm and preparing week to week,” he said. “They understand the things we’re trying to accomplish. They’re learning a few new things each week that help us play against whatever opponent we have this week.”