By RYAN HERMAN
The second week of conference play brings Lincoln County its second big showdown.
Last week it was Lincolnton and West Lincoln, with the Wolves coming out on top, 21-13. Today, they host defending state 2A champ East Lincoln looking to claim the unofficial title of county champion.
Lincolnton (3-2, 1-0 Southern District 7 Athletic 2A) has already knocked off North Lincoln and West Lincoln. Beating the Mustangs tonight will give it a perfect run through county play for the first time since 2011, and for the eighth time under head coach Scott Cloninger.
“You’re talking about a defending state champion, and they’ve got a world of athletes,” Cloninger said. “If we can play some physical football with East Lincoln, I think we have a chance. If we don’t play physical with them, they’ll run us off the field.”
While the Wolves are the only team that can lay claim to the unofficial county championship tonight –– the Mustangs have yet to play West Lincoln –– the focus isn’t on being the supreme team in the county, but in the SD-7.
Five of the eight league teams enter play tonight with above-.500 overall records, including Lincolnton and East Lincoln (4-1, 1-0).
The Wolves knocked off the Rebels last week, and the Mustangs broke free in the second half to stomp Bandys, 55-26.
Those wins don’t matter tonight, however, because each week in league play brings a different and formidable challenge, the coaches believe.
“What’s coming, this conference is a great conference, and you better play each week,” Cloninger said.
As Lincolnton enjoyed winning the coined “Showdown in Vale Town” last week, East Lincoln hasn’t been in quite as big an atmosphere as what is expected tonight.
With a team as young as the Mustangs, coach Mike Byus sees doing the little things correctly as a big key to the game.
“We haven’t really been in that big-atmosphere game like it’s going to be Friday night,” Byus said. “Usually the team that takes care of the football better ends up winning the ballgame.”
That’s what cost East Lincoln its only loss, at Gastonia Forestview, when the Mustangs had five turnovers.
Giveaways weren’t an issue last week.
“We did a better job of taking care of the football, and we did a better job of staying in our lanes and filling our gaps,” Byus said. “We just came out and played hard and did a good job getting the ship turned around.”
Behind sophomore quarterback Chazz Surratt and a slew of other athletes, the Mustangs are tops in the league in total offense at 450.2 yards per game, and are averaging 40 points per contest.
After a 260-yard, five-touchdown night on the ground and a 187-yard, two-TD night through the air last week Surratt now leads the league in rushing at 153.4 yards and 15 TDs, and is second in passing at 68 completions in 110 attempts for 951 yards and 11 TDs behind Maiden’s Jake McRee.
Even with all those numbers, Surratt isn’t the only weapon the Mustangs have.
Damarius Valentine is averaging over 80 yards rushing per game and has a score, and Sage Surratt is third in the league in receiving at 275 yards and four TDs on 18 catches.
“We had eight different receivers catch a pass last week. We had a running back get over 100 yards rushing (Valentine). Chazz will be the first one to tell you, this is not a one-man show, and he doesn’t really like it when people refer to it that way, either,” Byus said.
“He’s putting up good numbers, I think, because you have to also respect the players around him as well.”
Lincolnton is still behind the curve offensively since it installed a new offense before the game at North Gaston in Week 3.
The Wolves are seventh in total offense at 233 yards per game and seventh in scoring at 16.6 points per game.
With that being said, they are on a mini two-game win streak, and Cloninger sees his offense improving with each passing week.
“We know we’re not where we want to be,” Cloninger said, “but I feel like we are getting better.”
The Wolves have their own star in Darian Roseboro.
Roseboro, who has received more than a dozen major Division I scholarship offers, set the tone for Lincolnton last week when he tackled then-league leading rusher Daniel Davila for a 3-yard loss on West Lincoln’s first play from scrimmage.
Roseboro, who is being recruited as a defensive end, also doubles as a fullback, and scored on a 19-yard run to seal the deal late in the game.
“He’s a player,” Cloninger said.
Lincolnton may lead the all-time series 31-10, but is 5-5 in 10 games against East Lincoln since Byus took over in 2005.
“You can throw the records out when it comes time for us to play. It’s just one of those rivalry games,” he said. “You better go strap’em up tight.”
WEST LINCOLN at BUNKER HILL
The Bears and Rebels enter tonight’s SD-7 showdown with the league’s top two defenses and top two rushing attacks.
Bunker Hill, which dropped its first game of the year in a 38-17 setback against Maiden last week, leads the SD-7 in rushing at 339 yards per game, while West Lincoln, also coming off its first loss, is second at 278.6.
Defensively the Bears (4-1, 0-1) lead the league in fewest yards allowed at 242.8. Right behind them are the Rebels (4-1, 0-1) at 249.6. They’re also second and third, respectively, in points allowed, behind Maiden, the league’s only unbeaten team.
Bunker Hill senior running back Jordan Eckard is second in the SD-7 behind Chazz Surratt at 136.8 yards per game with seven TDs. West Lincoln’s leading rusher, Daniel Davila, was held to 42 yards in last week’s 21-13 loss to Lincolnton and fell from first to third in the league at 123.6 yards per game.
The teams are meeting for the first time since 2004, when they were co-members of the old Midwest 2A Conference. Bunker Hill has won 13 straight over West Lincoln, with the Rebels’ last win coming in 1991.
The Bears are 2-1 at home this year while the Rebels are 2-0 on the road.
NORTH LINCOLN at ALEXANDER CENTRAL
The Knights and Cougars meet for the first time tonight and both are in search of their first North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference win.
North Lincoln (1-4, 0-1) is coming off a 48-0 loss to South Iredell while Alexander Central (2-3, 0-1) got beat 52-15 at Lake Norman.
The Cougars, who sport the league’s third-best offense in terms of total yards (348.2 per game), are led by sophomore quarterback Landon Hammer. Hammer may be last among starting QBs in the league in passing (169 total yards, three TDs), but is third in rushing at 109.6 yards per game with four TDs.
The Knights enter the conference matchup last in the league in offense at 265.6 yards per game. Richard Jackson is their top rusher, 10th in the league, at 62.6 yards per game with six TDs. Taylor Woodby is fifth in receiving at 218 yards and a TD on 11 catches.