By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– The first time Maiden and East Lincoln met on the gridiron this year the highly-anticipated conference matchup turned into a rout.
The Mustangs aren’t expecting the same to happen again.
Third-seeded East Lincoln (8-4) hosts the sixth-seeded Blue Devils (11-1) at 7:30 tonight in the second round of the NCHSAA state 2AA playoffs in a rematch of what ultimately determined who won the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference title.
The Nov. 1 game in Denver featured a pair of state-ranked 2A teams by the Associated Press media poll, the league’s top two offenses, two of its top four defenses and a pair of the SD-7’s best quarterbacks.
Down to the wire, right?
The Mustangs won 42-0 and held Maiden to season lows in passing yards (107), rushing yards (24) and points (zero).
According to East Lincoln, don’t expect the same outcome tonight.
“This is not the first time. (The Blue Devils are) going to be different, I’m sure of it,” East Lincoln coach Mike Byus said. “I expect nothing less then for them to come over here and play hard.”
The differences between the teams in Week 11 were East Lincoln’s execution offensively against Maiden’s defense, and the Mustangs’ being in the right spots in the right situations against Maiden’s offense.
The key to winning tonight –– by whatever margin –– is doing that again.
“They’re not bad. We just executed so well last time,” Byus said. “If we can play defense like we did last time, keeping them in check most of the game, then I’m not quite as worried about it.”
Three weeks ago converting third downs was a big advantage to East Lincoln. It had four third-down conversions on its first drive alone –– which led to a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Chazz Surratt –– while Maiden had three the entire game.
“In the beginning, we converted several third downs and every time they had (a third down), they didn’t. And if they did, we turned around and still stopped them anyways,” Byus said.
Senior linebacker Justin Rhodes echoed his coach’s statement about execution.
He also sees there is more to Maiden than what his team saw on Nov. 1.
“We’ve just got to execute. –– still get hats to the ball and get moving, stay focused, wrap up,” Rhodes said. “We’re pretty evenly matched, it’s just whoever executes on any given night.”
Junior defensive back Damarius Valentine, who has seven interceptions –– one against Maiden and two last week –– believes his team needs to forget about the last time the two teams met.
“Don’t get a big head over the first win,” Valentine said. “It was easier (to win last time) because we were prepared for it and we were going to come into that game focused and ready to play.”
Since the rout the Blue Devils have won back-to-back games in dominating fashion themselves –– a 42-14 win over Lincolnton in the regular season finale and a 35-0 win over Forbush in the first round of the playoffs last week.
The loss to East Lincoln essentially woke up a team that hadn’t lost until that night, so Byus doesn’t expect to shut it out again.
“I don’t think we can necessarily keep them out of the end zone again for four quarters, but we’ll see,” he said.
Maiden had 312 total yards in last week’s first-round win while East Lincoln had its fewest passing yards (53) but finished with 348 yards all together in its 35-27 win over Bandys.
That’s pretty even, from points scored to yards gained.
It’s also win or hang up the pads for both teams.
“I think it’s even because it’s the second round of the playoffs and you don’t want to go home,” Rhodes said. “You can’t play your last game at home because (then) you have to put your equipment up.”