By CHRIS HOBBS
EAST LINCOLN MUSTANGS
Conference: South Fork 2A.
Head coach: David Lubowicz (6-6, 1 year; 6-6 at E. Lincoln, 1 year).
Last season’s records: 6-6 overall; 5-2 South Fork 2A, third place.
Last season’s results: at Forestview, L 6-7; at Ashbrook, L 3-18; N. Gaston, L 7-28; at E. Gaston, W 22-6; LAKE NORMAN CHARTER, W 28-7; LINCOLNTON, W 12-7; at N. LINCOLN, W 35-31; BANDYS, W 38-13; at MAIDEN, L 43-44, 2 OTs; W. LINCOLN, W 42-35, OT; at NEWTON-CONOVER, L 21-39. Playoffs: at Mount Pleasant, L 0-35.
SCHOOL FOOTBALL HISTORY
Last season in state playoffs: 2017, 2AA.
Last state playoff victory: 2016, d. W. Caldwell 34-14, second round.
All-time state playoff bids: 22.
Conference titles (or shares of) since 1980, last: 8, 2015 Southern District 7 Athletic 2A.
BY THE NUMBERS
Returning starters: 13.
Returning lettermen: 17.
Returning starters: 6.
Leading returning rusher: Lucas McConnell, 5-8, 155, Soph., (42-335, 1 TD).
Leading returning passer: Chase Jones, 6-2, 160, Sr. (105-191-13, 1,359, 12 TDs).
Leading returning receiver: Mikivi Phinix, 6-1, 180, Jr.; (15-257, 3 TDs).
Other key returnees: Tavin Johnson, 6-0, 180, WR; Sr.; Trent Smith, 6-2, 265, OL, Soph.; Spencer Sinyard, 6-2, 285, OL, Jr.
Top newcomers: Sidney Dollar, 6-5, 205, WR, Sr. (missed last year with injury); Justin Barnett, 6-1, 165, WR, Jr.; Cole Barber, 5-9, 160, RB, Jr.
Returning starters: 7.
Players to watch: Chazz Williams, 6-0, 280, DL, Sr.; Blaine Dellinger, 6-1, 205, DL, Jr.; Jud Reel, 5-10, 200, LB, Sr.; Daniel Herring, 5-10, 165, LB, Sr.; Alex Biagi, 5-10, 165, LB, Sr.; Gabe Duncan, 5-8, 150, DB, Sr.; Trevor Filo, 6-0, 165, DB, Jr.
With 13 returning starters and Sidney Dollar, one of the area’s top athletes also back from injury, the Mustangs have reason to believe they can – and will – improve on a .500 record from last season.
Having a senior QB back in the mix, Chase Jones, and ample offensive threats when they do throw the ball – top two WRs Tavin Johnson and Mikivi Phinx also return – will help the Mustangs.
Jones threw for nearly 1,400 yards a year ago and for 13 scores.
“Chase Jones has progessed well beyond last season both mentally and physically,” Lubowicz told The Gaston Gazette in a preseason story.
The Mustangs are a year older in Lubowicz’s spread offense and they’ll rely more heavily on Lucas McConnell as they try to develop a running game that lost leading rusher Chandler Jones to graduation.
“I think that the biggest adjustment going into the season is the comfort level of the kids and coaches with the offense, which was new last year,” Lubowicz told The Gazette. “Our weakness is the depth on the offensive line. We are probably five or six strong back lack some viable backups.”
In a league that reasonably has at least five teams that could contend for a title, depth at a lot of positions could be the item that begins to separate those teams.
East Lincoln got off to a slow start in Lubowicz’s first season as head coach, going 0-3, but played its way into another state playoff bid – its 22nd – by playing well when it had to.
To win the South Fork 2A this time, a lot of other pieces will have to fall into place. The Mustangs don’t necessarily have the explosive, firework-producing offense that helped them win 41 of 45 games from 2014-16, but they still have their fair share (or more) of quality football players.