Lake Norman & Mooresville

Game of the week: East Lincoln at Newton-Conover

As high school football swings into gear around the Carolinas, coaches and players hit the field with some uncertainty of what the season will bring.

Old rivalries will be renewed, but a lot of the faces have changed.

East Lincoln (0-0) gets a shot at redemption in their opening game Friday night when they take on the Newton-Conover Red Devils, the runner-up in last year's 2A state championship game.

The Red Devils (0-0) defeated the Mustangs twice last season - once in their annual regular season meeting, and again in the third round of the state playoffs, a 35-14 loss East Lincoln head coach Mike Byus wishes more of his guys remembered.

"There's so few of them left, I don't know if they have a bad taste in their mouths or not," he said.

Having played every year against each other since 2006, including twice in the playoffs, the Red Devils hold a 6-1 edge. Things won't get any easier for the Mustangs this year, as renovations to their stadium have shifted the game back to Newton-Conover for a second straight season.

"I'm as anxious as anybody to see if we can go out there and hang with the skill level that Newton has," said Byus. "Right now, I just don't know. My hope is the kids we put out there will fly around, hustle and compete. That's all we can ask of them."

East Lincoln (0-0)

The Mustangs lost 24 seniors off last year's 11-3 squad, including 14 starters.

Byus hopes he can simplify the game for some of his younger players and get some consistency at the quarterback position.

He's hoping sophomore Garrett Young can find his stride and win the starting quarterback job.

"The game is just too fast for him right now," said Byus. "He's a good passer and knows the game real well. It's just a matter of when it's going to slow down for him."

If Young can't find a rhythm, Byus may have to bring in one of his better outside threats to play the position.

Newton-Conover (0-0)

The Red Devils are coming off two straight trips to the state championship game, where they won it all in 2008.

Head coach Nick Bazzle voiced his concerns about his team in almost the same manner as Byus, worried the youth and lack of focus could be their downfall.

"We're not very physical right now," said Bazzle. "We have to put in some work to toughen these kids up a bit."

Bazzle is also dealing with some heavy losses. The Red Devils return just one starter on offense and two on defense.

Even with all the changes for the Mustangs, Bazzle knows the similarities in youth means the game could go either way.

"Coach Byus always has his team believing in what they do," he said. "At one time, we felt like we were probably going to always beat East Lincoln, but since [Byus] came in, that's not the case."

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