By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, famously, that “offense sells tickets; defense wins championships.”
East Lincoln’s defense is living proof.
The Mustangs, still pumped up from last year’s NCHSAA state 2A championship game in which they forced four fumbles, have been lights out defensively in conference play this season while their offense has gotten most of the glory.
East Lincoln (7-1) may sport the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference’s top offense at 409.1 yards per game and arguably its most dynamic offensive player in sophomore quarterback Chazz Surratt (2,507 total yards, 36 total touchdowns), but its defense has been there to make stops.
“You can’t expect to outscore people all the time,” senior linebacker Cody Mocilin said. “You have to be able to stop them, too.”
The Mustangs, who host West Caldwell for homecoming Friday, gave up 44 points and 393 total yards in a loss to Gastonia Forestview on Sept. 13 –– their first in 22 months.
They followed that up by allowing 19 points in the second quarter alone to Bandys in the conference opener, and by halftime –– and with a slim 21-19 lead –– had had enough. It was time to get back to what led East Lincoln to its first state title.
In the 14 quarters since, the Mustangs have allowed a total of 33 points –– the fewest in the league.
“We had a defensive-only meeting at halftime (against Bandys) and decided enough was enough,” senior linebacker Justin Rhodes said.
With an offense so explosive –– it averages 36.3 points per game –– East Lincoln’s defense feels it can be slighted at times.
But, as its seniors point out, were it not for the three forced fumbles at Lincolnton and holding Bunker Hill’s power running game to 125 yards, things could be different.
In both of those games the offense struggled, even gaining a man-that-was-awful response from head coach Mike Byus following the 14-10 win over the Bears.
To the defense, it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
“It’s all about ‘hot to the ball,’” senior defensive lineman Coriyo Boyd said. “It’s not about solo tackles. We rarely have solo tackles. It’s about the team, the whole defense.”
Up next for East Lincoln is the league’s last place team, but that team has a quarterback in Dylan West, who picked apart West Lincoln’s top-ranked defense to the tune of 260 yards passing and 42 yards rushing last week.
The Mustangs defense isn’t taking the one-win Warriors –– or West –– lightly.
“We have to treat them like any other opponent,” senior linebacker Billy Misenheimer said. “When you don’t that’s when you get beat.”