By RYAN HERMAN
East Lincoln begins its state title defense at home.
The Mustangs on Saturday were awarded the No. 3 seed in the 2AA West bracket, ensuring themselves of at least two home games, and were one of three Lincoln County teams who made the NCHSAA state football playoffs.
East Lincoln (7-4), the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference champion thanks to its 42-15 win at West Lincoln, hosts No. 14 Bandys (5-6) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in a rematch of league foes.
The Rebels (7-4), who finished tied for fourth with Bandys and Bunker Hill, earned a 12-seed in the 2AA West bracket and will travel to No. 5 Hunter Huss (4-7) for a first round game. Lincolnton (7-4), which finished third in the SD-7, drew a 9-seed in the 2A West bracket and must travel to No. 8 Thomasville (5-6) for a first round game on Friday.
Despite reaching the qualifying minimum of four wins with its 48-14 win over West Iredell on Friday, and finishing third among the five 3A teams in the North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference, North Lincoln missed out on the state playoffs for the fifth straight year in their best season since winning seven games in 2008.
Only two teams with a 4-7 record made the 3A playoffs: Topsail in the East and East Rowan in the West, and both were seeded 16th.
• Bandys (5-6) at East Lincoln (7-4): Despite forfeiting three non-conference wins the Mustangs earned a top-three seed, are in the playoffs for a school-record ninth straight year and could potentially host the team that made that seed possible in the second round.
If East Lincoln, which knocked off Bandys 55-26 on Sept. 27, can defeat the Trojans again, it could see a rematch with No. 6 Maiden (10-1) in the second round. The Mustangs routed the Blue Devils 42-0 two Fridays ago in a game between two state-ranked teams to essentially claim the SD-7 title. Maiden hosts No. 11 Forbush (6-5).
East Lincoln hasn’t made it out of the first round twice in head coach Mike Byus’ nine-year tenure –– 2010 (33-19 loss at Mountain Heritage) and 2011 (21-13 loss at Starmount). It is 13-1 in the playoffs at home under Byus, and the Mustangs haven’t played a road state playoff game since the loss at Starmount.
• Lincolnton (7-4) at Thomasville (5-6): The Wolves get the 9-seed despite having a better record than Thomasville because it finished second to undefeated North Rowan in the Central Carolina 2A Conference.
Lincolnton is facing the Bulldogs in the playoffs for the third straight year. The Wolves lost 55-14 at Thomasville in the second round last year, and beat it 26-0 in Lincolnton in 2011.
This year’s seeding is the Wolves’ worst since being seeded 14th in 2006. That was also the last time they lost in the first round.
Lincolnton is in the state playoffs for the 14th straight year, all under head coach Scott Cloninger. It is also the longest streak in school and county history.
The winner will most likely have to travel to top-seeded Winston-Salem Carver (10-1), which hosts No. 16 Lake Norman Charter (5-6).
• West Lincoln (7-4) at Hunter Huss (4-7): Like the Lincolnton-Thomasville scenario, the Rebels must take their better record on the road because the Huskies were the top 2A team in the combo Big South 2A/3A Conference.
Per NCHSAA rules, teams are seeded by their conference finish based on their overall winning percentage –– conference champions first, second-place finishers seeded next, and so on.
Hunter Huss is looking for its first playoff win since 2006 while West Lincoln, in the postseason for the sixth time in school history, has never won a state playoff game.
The Rebels have made four straight playoff trips, all on the road. They have never played at home in the playoffs, and unless No. 13 Bunker Hill (7-4) upsets No. 4 Ashe County (7-4) that won’t happen this season.
• No. 1 seeds: 4AA East –– Raleigh Wakefield (10-1), 4AA West –– West Forsyth (10-1), 4A East –– Scotland County (11-0), 4A West –– Mooresville (10-1), 3AA East –– Fayetteville Byrd (9-2), 3AA West –– Crest (10-1), 3A East –– Havelock (11-0), 3A West –– Freedom (10-1), 2AA East –– High Point Andrews (9-1), 2AA West –– Franklin County (11-0), 2A East –– Elizabeth City Northeastern (9-2), 2A West –– Winston-Salem Carver (10-1), 1AA East –– Tarboro (9-2), 1AA Mideast –– Warsaw Kenan (10-0), 1AA West –– West Montgomery (10-1), 1AA Midwest –– Swain County (9-2), 1A East –– Plymouth (10-0), 1A Mideast –– Camp Lejeune (10-1), 1A Midwest –– Albemarle (8-3), 1A West –– Murphy (8-3).