When Mike Byus took over as East Lincoln’s football coach in 2005, the Mustangs had made just eight appearances in the N.C. High School Athletic Association state playoffs since 1967 – and had only made it to the second round twice. Under Byus, East Lincoln (15-0) has made the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons. Saturday’s 2AA title game in Winston-Salem against Washington (14-1) will be the Mustangs’ third appearance in a state championship game, including a win for the 2A title in 2012.
Q. Does each trip to a state final become more special for you?
A. “Yeah, it does as a coach. You’ve also got to remember that it’s a new experience for most of your players, and if it’s been long enough, all of your players. It never gets old.”
Q. At the start of the season, did you think you had a team capable of reaching this point?
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A. “On any given year, you have to be realistic about your chances. It’s not every year that you have the ability athletically to be there. That’s something everybody ought to keep in mind, especially us coaches. Without some quality players, you’re not going to get there anyway.”
Q. Initial impressions of Washington?
A. “The first thing I noticed is their team speed – it’s phenomenal. ... They remind me a little bit of Tarboro the last time we played (for the 2012 state title). Offensively and defensively, their team speed at every position – whether it’s up front, the linebackers, defensive backs, wide receivers, whoever – was pretty good.”
Q. How’s your team’s health?
A. “You know, these kids are asked to play 16 games when you make it this far – just like an NFL season – but surprisingly, we’re pretty healthy. I’m pleased with that. To get this far, you always have to have some breaks, you have to stay pretty healthy. There’s a few nicks, bumps and bangs, but nobody’s out.”
Q. What’s been the biggest surprise this season?
A. “Our defense really rallies to the ball well. We’ve been playing some really good team defense.”