The old football adage “offense wins games, defense wins championships” held true for the undefeated state champion East Lincoln Mustangs.
The team allowed just less than 17 points per game on their 16-0 run, with three shutouts.
That defensive success started on the team’s four-man defensive front. Senior tackle Dallas Smith (6-foot-2, 320 lbs.), junior tackle Coriyo Boyd (6-foot-1, 300 lbs.), sophomore defensive end Christian Tyson-Bryant (6-foot, 170 lbs.) and sophomore defensive end Dallas Lawing (5-foot-9, 220 lbs.) all finished the season in the top 10 tacklers for the Mustangs, and Lawing’s nine-tackle effort in the 2A state championship game against Tarboro on Dec. 1, a 24-20 win for the Mustangs, was enough to earn him defensive MVP honors for the game.
“We knew we were supposed to be there,” Lawing said. “We knew it was going to be a competitive game. We knew what we had to do and we accomplished it.”
Smith said a state championship was an unexpected, but welcome, finish to his season and his high school career.
“It was a perfect finish,” he said. “We started the season off thinking if we made the playoffs, that’d be great. If we make it to the second or third round that would be even better. But to win a state championship — there’s nothing better than that.”
Boyd said the effort the team put into the offseason showed its value as the team neared perfection.
“Hard work pays off,” he said. “I worked hard in the offseason and came into the season a bigger and better athlete. We’ll probably be even bigger, faster and stronger next year. Part of the reason we went 16-0 is that we went in the offseason and worked hard.”
Defensive line coach Chris Matile said the Mustangs’ defensive front pushed one another to the limits of their abilities.
“You get a group of kids like these, they all fed off each other,” he said. “They helped each other out when we were doing drills and they made each other work. They didn’t take it easy on each other. They made each other better.”
Smith, the lone senior on the defensive line, finished the season with 83 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His teammates on the line also put up big numbers.
Tyson-Bryant had 77 tackles, a team-high 13 tackles for a loss, a team-high four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Lawing had 72 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss and two sacks. Boyd finished the year with 57 tackles, two tackles for a loss and half a sack.
“There were times when we had some tough competition but the thing is that as big as we are and as hard as we worked there aren’t many people who could stop us,” Smith said. “If we’re really going after it there’s not much they can do to stop us. Me and Coriyo tried to take out the inside guys and let Christian and Dallas take out the outside guys. We knew what we had to do each game.”