by Aaron Burns

The Davidson Day Patriots and East Lincoln High Mustangs posted scintillating seasons in 2012. Both squads won state championships: The Patriots captured the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II championship, and the Mustangs won the N.C. Class 2A state crown.

All of which poses the question: If Lake Norman Publications’ top two teams squared off in a winner-take-all LNP Bowl, who would win?

Here’s a look at both teams and their strengths.

The verdict

You can’t teach size. The Mustangs’ advantage in stature on both sides of the line gave them a leg up on most of their competition in their slate of games. It wouldn’t be any different against the Patriots. Winning the battle up front would be a huge coup for East Lincoln’s hopes of a win.

But could their defense hold off another prolific offense like Davidson Day’s?

Mike Byus said the only way to accurately predict a winner would be to actually play the game.

“I’m not much for what-ifs,” he said.

Chad Grier agreed that picking a winner wouldn’t be easy.

“In a lot of ways, it would feel like we were playing ourselves,” he said.

“They have an excellent quarterback with several weapons at his disposal, and so do we. My guess is that it would have been a high-scoring game and fun to watch … if you like offense.”

Our pick: East Lincoln 38, Davidson Day 24

What’s your take? Email your prediction to sports@huntersvilleherald.com with the subject line “East Lincoln vs. Davidson Day pick.”

East Lincoln Mustangs

16-0 overall, 7-0 Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference

Head coach: Mike Byus

East Lincoln never met a team it couldn’t beat in 2012.

The Mustangs were tested – a 61-59 win on Aug. 24 against Hopewell High and a 13-8 squeaker on Sept. 28 over Lincolnton High – but no opponent could get the best of Mike Byus’ squad.

Part of the reason for the team’s success was their tendency to never overlook an opponent.

“The thought was never about just winning (every game) and what that game meant,” Byus said. “It was about doing what you needed to do every play. If you had a bad play on offense, defense or special teams, forget about it. Play for the next play. That’s what we focused on all year.”

It worked out well for the Mustangs.

Strengths:

• Passing game: East Lincoln’s aerial attack – led by quarterback Garrett Young and wide receivers Chaz Surratt, Tyler Brock and Jesse Earnhardt – carved up opposing defenses all year. Young broke school records with 3,723 yards passing and 45 touchdowns despite missing time with a knee injury. Having tall targets like the 6-foot-4 Brock helped.

• Run defense: If you expected to base your offense against East Lincoln on the running game, it probably didn’t work out well. The Mustangs stymied running backs all season. Linebacker Scott McMichael made clutch stops whenever backs ran into him.

• Depth: This was the Mustangs’ most underrated strong suit. Young was a prolific passer, but when he was injured, Surratt stepped in and picked up the slack. Byus kept East Lincoln’s defensive players fresh by subbing them in and out of the action, harnessing their energy and giving opponents different looks and formations.

Davidson Day Patriots

11-2 overall

Head coach: Chad Grier

The Patriots’ offense was so prolific in the regular season, it made what the team accomplished in the postseason – like a 104-80 win over Harrells Christian – seem almost anticlimactic.

Quarterback Will Grier set the national record for single-game passing yards with his 837-yard performance against Harrells Christian. Aaron Seward, Jordan Brown and Evan Gates were more than serviceable targets for Grier all season.

Results after the Patriots’ two defeats, 24-15 to Providence Day and 56-15 to Charlotte Country Day, were what impressed Chad Grier most.

“I loved the way we responded to losses and elevated our level of preparation and game performance both times. As much as we hate to lose, we got better as a result,” Chad Grier said. “We were playing our best ball of the year at the end of the season when it mattered most. As a coach, you always hope for that, and this year our staff did a great job of developing young guys and managing through injuries to make that happen.”

Strengths:

• Passing game: There’s no way around it. Will Grier would take a look at what every opposing defense would give him, and he’d take twice as much. The junior quarterback won Gatorade N.C. Football Player of the Year honors after passing for 5,785 yards and 69 touchdowns, both state records.

• Speed: The Patriots made up for their lack of size – Grier said the team’s offensive line went 260, 250, 215, 230 and 330 pounds across the line – with speed that ran opponents ragged. If track and field star Jordan Brown got to the corner, he usually scored.

• Youth: How could being young be a positive? It means the Patriots can only get better from here. Grier has another year at quarterback. Brown will be back as well. Replacing captains Evan Gates and Nick Lamach will be their biggest challenge.