Remembering how a 1979 East Lincoln victory spawned an era of playoff success for Lincoln County teams
By Richard Walker
For only the third time in Lincoln County history, all four high schools will be in the state football playoffs.
To realize how impressive that is, consider that until 1979 only one school (Lincolnton) had ever advanced to any postseason games and recorded only two victories.
Certainly, while the NCHSAA’s decision to expand its playoffs in 1985 and again in 2002 created more postseason opportunities for all schools, Lincoln County has benefitted as much as any in recent years.
After all, since recording only two first round playoff victories (in 1923 and 1967), Lincoln County has racked up 92 postseason wins and four state titles in the years since East Lincoln’s first postseason game in 1979.
That third playoff victory not only got East Lincoln’s first postseason voyage off to a good start, it saw a future Lincoln County coach star for the Mustangs.
East Lincoln had no gridiron success whatsoever to drawn upon when it opened in 1967.
Old Rock Springs, which played football in its final seven seasons, lost its first 38 games and finished 6-60-2 in its history.
And when East Lincoln opened, it went 0-10 in its first season and didn’t compete for a league title until 1978.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, they were in the old Southern District 7 2A Conference with eventual state champion Maiden that season; Maiden won 28-7 at home over East Lincoln in the ’78 regular season finale on its way to a state title while the Mustangs would finish tied for second in the conference.
The following year, the situation for the league championship was the same but the state playoff implications were different.
East Lincoln hosted Maiden for the SD7 title but both teams knew they would be making the postseason as the league got two postseason berths that season.
Maiden’s 20-9 win wasn’t too surprising but it left East Lincoln motivated to prove it belonged the next week in the state playoffs when it visited Avery County, which qualified as the champion of the old Blue Ridge Conference.
The Mustangs were coached by Bruce Bolick, who had been a star halfback on old Mount Holly’s 1963 state championship team. East Lincoln’s top two-way player was current North Lincoln head coach Nick Bazzle, who was named area defensive player of the year by The Gastonia Gazette in its annual postseason awards.
Still, when East Lincoln travelled to Newland to face Avery County for the school’s first state playoff game in its 13th year of existence, no one could’ve imagined what was about to happen.
East Lincoln started out strong by taking a 20-0 first half lead. But the high-scoring affair ended with East Lincoln holding on for a 55-49 vitory that set a record for highest-scoring playoff game in NCHSAA history.
Bazzle, a two-way standout for the Mustangs, became the first player in county history with three touchdown receptions and East Lincoln quarterback David Reynolds became the first player in county history to pass for more than 200 yards (he had 209) and throw five TD passes in a single game; Ricky Ross caught the other two TD passes and also had an 80-yard touchdown kickoff return.
Yet, for the second straight year, East Lincoln’s last game would come in a loss to the eventual state champion.
Swain County, which eliminated Maiden 7-6 in their first round matchup, defeated the Mustangs 49-14 in the second round, then knocked off Central Davidson (23-0) and Clayton (28-21) the next two weeks to win the state championship.
In the years that have followed, East Lincoln, Lincolnton, North Lincoln and West Lincoln have all joined the playoff party and enjoyed success.
Lincolnton is the county’s all-time playoff winner with a 54-40 record in 42 all-time appearances. The Wolves have won state titles in 1993 and 2007 and have playoff streaks of 18 straight appearances (2000-17), 11 straight appearances (1986-96) and eight straight opening round victories (2010-17).
East Lincoln is second in wins with a 32-22 record in 24 appearances. The Mustangs won state titles with the help of current Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chazz Surratt in 2012 and 2014 and had a streak of 15 straight appearances from 2005 to 2019.
North Lincoln, which opened in 2003, has made eight appearances with a 6-8 record. Bazzle, the Knights’ head coach since 2018, guided the school to back-to-back Western semifinal appearances in 2018 and 2019 and to its first-ever league title in 2019.
And West Lincoln, which didn’t advance to the postseason until its 44th season of 2005, has swept its county rivals in the past two seasons and has a current playoff streak of six straight years.
On Friday night, East Lincoln visits Oak Grove and North Lincoln hosts West Rowan in Class 3A and Lincolnton visits Monroe and West Lincoln hosts Surry Central in Class 2A.