Middle Creek, which scored 30 or more points in its last eight games in 2012, may have to rely on its defense more this season.
The Mustangs (8-0, 11-2) graduated two running backs, four offensive linemen and a quarterback who all have the opportunity to play college football this fall. Only three starters are back from a unit that averaged 37.2 points and scored 60 or more points twice.
The defense has at least seven back, plus some newcomers who are expected to have an impact. The unit is expected to be improved and cut down on the 24.9 points per game it allowed a year ago.
We expect to play better defense, said Mustangs coach Mike Castellano. I think the kids have a much better understanding of what were trying to do.
Castellano has abundant defensive experience. Defensive backs Terrance White and Jacob Pearl were both all-conference picks last year as were linebackers Warren Messer, a transfer from Cary, and King Kiaku.
Terry Patterson (6-3, 260) returns at one defensive end and Fuquay-Varina transfer Anthony Mitchell (6-3, 215) may take the other. Josh Hunter and Tom Hartshorn are other veterans.
Offensively, there are more questions.
Junior quarterback Brant Grisel got lots of snaps directing an 8-1 junior varsity squad, but has no varsity experience. Runners Yorick Sands, Stuart Fine and Elijah Perry are unproven. Patterson and Hunter may join returning center Rasheed Ferrell in the line and sophomore Connor Baroniuas (6-2, 225) has shown promise. Evan Cofone (6-5, 320) also is back.
The receiving corps is expected to be a strength with all-conference Curtis Burston, Jay Schuller, Keon Smith, Quadir Ford, Troy Diebolt, Rasheem Eaton and Deante McDonald.
On offense, we need to gel, Castellano said. We have to learn to be accountable, compete at a high level and at a fast pace.
He expects special teams to be a strength with punter/ kicker Michael Rubino, kicker Chris Hui, White and Isaiah Herring.
But early in the season, with the opener at Garner and then a visit by Fayetteville Smith, the defense may be key.
Castellano believes last years experience and another year in the weight room will make a big difference.
The Mustangs have won or shared conference regular-season title three times in the past four years and are the coaches pick as the favorite again this season.