The Middle Creek Mustangs have matched their deepest run ever in the playoffs, but coach Mike Castellano prefers to take things one game at a time rather than look at the big picture.
Directly in front of the Mustangs is rival Garner, which handed Middle Creek one of its two losses this season. Garner defeated the Mustangs 21-16 in the season opener.
But the teams that meet in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA third-round game are very different than the ones that opened the season.
The Trojans (10-3) average 49.6 points per game, and have scored 63 points in each of their past two games. No team other than Middle Creek has held Garner to less than 30 points.
The Mustangs held Garner standout junior running back Nyheim Hines to 88 yards on 22 carries. No other team has held him to less than 186. Hines had 454 yards in Garners 63-56 win over Fayetteville Jack Britt last week.
In my opinion they have the best player in the state of North Carolina, said Castellano, whose 11-2 Mustangs have won nine consecutive games. Right now that kid (Nyheim Hines) and their entire offense are playing at another level.
Middle Creek, which beat Hope Mills South View 28-20 last week, has battled injuries most of the season, losing a safety, a fullback, an offensive lineman and a running back during the past four weeks.
East Carolina-bound receiver Curtis Burston was injured for the first half of the season, but has come back to add another offensive weapon. The senior scored four touchdowns in the playoff opener against Fuquay-Varina, and then added a 69-yard score against South View last week.
Burston didnt play in the season-opening loss and quarterback Brant Grisel left the game with an injury.
Grisel has propelled the Mustangs aerial attack, throwing for 555 yards in two playoff games and distributing the football to a number of receivers.
But the Mustangs biggest challenge is slowing the Garner offense.
We dont focus on how far we are in the playoffs, just the game in front of us, Castellano said. Im just proud of how well these guys are playing together.