DENVER –– Despite triple-digit penalty yards and three first-half turnovers, East Lincoln captured a 35-14 win over the East Gaston Warriors Friday night with a strong second-half performance.
“We just didn’t have our focus but we can coach that,” East Lincoln head coach Mike Byus said of his team’s first-half performance. “But at the end of the day, getting out of there with a ‘W’ when you didn’t play real well is important. … You’re always going to have two or three games a year that you don’t play your best.”
A staggering 60 of the 130 penalty yards came on personal fouls committed by East Lincoln (1-0). A glaring issue for most head coaches is no big deal to Byus.
“I’m not that worried about it,” Byus said. “We just had a couple kids play until the echo of the whistle. But, you have to be smart and not get those personal fouls away from the play.”
After a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Austin Buchanan on East Lincoln’s first possession of the night, the Warriors (0-1) rattled off 14 unanswered points.
East Gaston’s first score came on a perfectly-executed fake field goal that went for a 14-yard touchdown pass from Austin Woods to Bailey Crane.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve scored on that play,” East Gaston head coach Sean Joyce said. “That formation gives us a ton of options. If you line up wrong we’ll exploit it.”
On the ensuing East Lincoln possession, Chazz Surratt fumbled in his own territory. East Gaston’s Kyle Truett recovered and raced down to the East Lincoln 14.
Warriors quarterback Alex Adams wasted no time putting the ball in the end zone with a 14-yard keeper to put his team up 14-6 after a Matthew Marks extra point.
Another unique play, a 4-yard touchdown pass from Chazz Surratt to his younger brother, Sage, that deflected off multiple sets of hands, followed by a two-point conversion allowed East Lincoln to tie the game at 14-14 before halftime.
“If it wasn’t for those two plays we could have shut them out in the first half,” Joyce said of the fumble recovery for a score and the batted pass in the end zone. “Sometimes it just happens that way.”
The Mustangs found their offensive rhythm after the break and marched down the field on the first drive of the second half. Junior running back Coleton Banks capped the possession with a 14-yard touchdown run to put the Mustangs up 21-14 after the extra point, and they were off to the races.
“We just didn’t look like our normal selves in the first half … we looked dead-legged,” Byus said. “At halftime we just talked about what we could do to them and what we saw out there. Then we just went out and executed better.”
Chazz Surratt led the charge, bouncing back from a lackluster first half where he was responsible for three turnovers. In the fourth quarter he rushed for a 1-yard score and found Sage Surratt in the end zone one more time for a 26-yard scoring strike as the skies opened up over The Corral drenching players, cheerleaders and fans alike.
The junior quarterback and Division I recruit finished with 210 yards passing and two touchdowns while Banks led the ground attack with 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Although Sage Surratt hauled in two touchdown passes, his 69 receiving yards were second on the team behind Cameron Dollar, who finished with 71 yards on three catches.
Now with win No. 1 under East Lincoln’s belt, Byus and the coaching staff will use today to look at the game film and find ways to avoid another 130 yards worth of penalties. One particular holding call negated a 73-yard touchdown run by Damarius Valentine in the third quarter.
“That just comes down to mental focus and we didn’t execute well. I think some of it is the end of camp and coming out of four weeks of hard practice to get ready for the season,” Byus said. “We need to adjust our conditioning a little bit and get the kids their legs back.”