By RYAN HERMAN
East Lincoln didn’t play for a second straight state title, but considering its youth its season was a success nonetheless.
The Mustangs, who were bounced from the NCHSAA state 2AA playoffs at Monroe in the third round last week, won 12 games on the field and went undefeated in one of the toughest football conferences around.
“We had a good year. I’m proud of all the kids and coaches and all the time and effort and hard work they put in,” East Lincoln coach Mike Byus said. “The JVs finished their second straight undefeated season, and we finished an undefeated conference season. We had a lot of positive things with pretty much a young football team.”
About the only negative thing to happen to the Mustangs this year may have cost them their shot at a repeat.
They had to forfeit their three non-conference wins when it was discovered they had inadvertently used an academically ineligible player. Those three wins becoming losses cost them the No. 2 seed in the 2AA West, making last week’s game at Monroe instead of at home. Not that anyone is making excuses, but any team likes its chances better at home than on the road.
Regardless, East Lincoln lost to a quality opponent, and both of the teams to beat it this year, including Forestview, are still playing.
“You don’t ever want to get knocked out, but we got knocked out to a pretty good football team,” Byus said. “We just couldn’t block them up front, and we couldn’t get any running lanes going. When you’re playing playoff football you’ve got to be able to run the ball at least a little bit.
“Everything we tried, they were either too strong or too fast.”
The Mustangs will return the bulk of their skills players next season, including quarterback Chazz Surratt, running back Coleton Banks and wide receivers Damarius Valentine and Sage Surratt.
The biggest piece they’ll have to figure out to next season’s puzzle will be filling five holes on defense that will be vacated due to graduation.
The departures of linebackers Billy Misenheimer, Justin Rhodes and Cody Mocilin, corner back Moses Boyter and defensive lineman Coriyo Boyd –– four of them an All-Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference pick –– will leave Byus searching for not only leadership but skill.
“We’re returning a really good nucleus of skill kids,” he said. “Replacing those guys on defense is going to be the hardest part.”