East Lincoln and North Lincoln are both undefeated, yet each team’s head coach is far from happy.
One will be a little closer to being satisfied tonight.
The Mustangs travel to Pumpkin Center tonight to take on the Knights in a matchup of the county’s only teams without a loss. It’s the first time the teams have met with zeros in the loss column, yet North Lincoln head coach David Maness and East Lincoln head coach Mike Byus feel their teams aren’t quite there yet.
Winning tonight will be a step in that direction.
“We definitely need to have a better focus play-in and play-out. You’ve got to find a way to focus for 48 minutes –– or at least 24,” Byus said. “We haven’t even been getting 24 in hardly. It’s something that we’ve got to overcome, is a little bit of a lack of focus in games for some reason. That’s what’s keeping us from being sharp.”
East Lincoln (2-0) has outscored its opponents 69-32 in wins over East Gaston and the Charlotte Q Foundation, but those numbers could be more skewed if it weren’t for eight turnovers. The Mustangs were plagued with three turnovers in Week 1, and had five last week.
The only reason East Lincoln has won both its games is because its defense has eight takeaways.
“We’ve got to cut down on turnovers, that’s for sure,” Byus said. “We’re just not very sharp right now. We’ve got to fine-tune everything. There’s no rhyme or reason for why we’re not (sharp). We should be.”
While the Mustangs have had trouble holding onto the ball, the Knights have not.
North Lincoln has yet to turn it over –– or drop the ball, period –– in exactly 100 offensive plays in its first two games. Meanwhile, its defense has five takeaways in wins over county rivals Lincolnton and West Lincoln
“It’s something that we emphasize –– how we carry the football –– and the things we do, we’re not, what you’d call, a high-risk offense,” Maness said. “We put a premium on ball possession and emphasize it every day.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to do that again this week.”
Maness said his backs run drills through a machine called “the blaster,” which has spring-loaded arms that slap at the ball while a runner carries it.
He said it teaches proper arm angles and carrying techniques so defenders can’t knock the ball loose.
“It kind of forces you to do things the right way,” Maness said.
North Lincoln has used its size on the offensive and defensive lines to push its opponents around, and in doing so is off to its best start since 2004.
The Knights, who have never began a season 3-0, have used a rushing attack to their advantage that controls the ball and the clock. They’re averaging 290.5 rushing yards per game, led by senior wingback Richard Jackson, who has 311 total rushing yards and four touchdowns in two games.
North Lincoln’s run game –– and its lack of turnovers –– has kept defenses on the field thus far, which is something East Lincoln feels it must cut down in order to win.
“(We have to have) a great defensive effort. We can’t stay on the field on defense the whole game. That’s what (the Knights) want,” Byus said. “They want a short game, we want a long one. When two styles like that meet, that’s the goal. They want to stay on the field and we want to get them off the field.”
North Lincoln’s biggest concern is the Mustangs’ ability to pass –– and who’s doing the passing.
The Knights haven’t faced a team that throws as much as the Mustangs. Junior quarterback Chazz Surratt already has 429 passing yards and seven passing TDs, but has been plagued with four interceptions.
Of East Lincoln’s 602 total yards of offense, only 173 have come on the ground –– 36 by Surratt. But that isn’t taking away from the respect the Division I recruit is getting from Maness.
“We’re definitely concerned (of the Mustangs’ passing game). They throw the ball a lot, and they throw it pretty well,” he said. “I think the thing that really concerns you more when you play them, it’s not the fact that they run or they throw, but it’s the fact the quarterback is … a dual-threat. It’s not a single-head monster, it’s a two-headed monster back there. We’ve got to limit (him) one way or the other.”
East Lincoln is also capable of making big plays. It has five offensive scoring plays of 14 or more yards, and one scoring play on defense.
“We’re going to have to play better than we’ve played. We can’t give them any short fields to play on –– turnovers –– and (we must) minimize big plays,” Maness said. “They’re capable of making some big plays, and I don’t think we can stop them from making some big plays, but hopefully we’ll be able to kind of minimize some of those.”
NORTH GASTON (1-1) at LINCOLNTON (1-1)
The Wolves host the Wildcats tonight after powering their way to a 14-13 win at Belmont South Point last week. Lincolnton went to a straight T offense in that game, using its large-bodied backs in a power running game that controlled the ball and the clock. The change was necessitated due to the absence of quarterback Jordon Easter, who coach Scott Cloninger said would be a game-time decision this week because of a high ankle sprain.
The Wildcats enter tonight after falling 29-7 at East Rutherford last week, but won last year’s meeting between these two, 10-7, after North Gaston converted a 36-yard field goal as time expired.
Lincolnton enters averaging 282 yards of offense, unofficially, and 13.5 points, while allowing 266.5 yards and 19.5 points on defense. North Gaston, which defeated Bessemer City 26-16 in its season opener, is averaging 282.5 yards of offense and 16.5 points, while allowing 263 yards and 22.5 points on defense.
Lincolnton has won seven of the last 10 meetings.
WEST LINCOLN (1-1) at CHERRYVILLE (1-1)
These longtime rivals meet again tonight for the 38th consecutive year in a series that dates back to 1977. Both teams enter after losses, with the Rebels dropping a 20-7 decision to North Lincoln while the Ironmen fell 24-16 to Bessemer City.
West Lincoln’s running game was key in its season-opening win at Valdese Draughn. The Rebels rushed for 332 yards in Week 1, but were limited to their lowest rushing total since their final game of 2012 with 150 rushing yards in last week’s loss to North Lincoln. Cherryville managed only 49 rushing yards last week, but its offense exploded in Week 1 with 398 yards and 50 points in a win over Bunker Hill.
West Lincoln enters averaging 313.5 yards of offense, unofficially, and 20.5 points, while allowing 277.5 yards and 20.5 points on defense.
West Lincoln leads the all-time series 21-16, and has won three of the last four meetings.
The Gaston Gazette contributed to this preview.