CARY, N.C. (WNCN) — The Cardinal Gibbons boys soccer team used a second-half surge to take the lead and a great play in goal to preserve the shut-out winning the boys 4A state championship over Myers Park 3-0 Saturday at Koka Booth Stadium in Cary.
“The range of emotions this group has gone through from having to push their season back all the way to January and we actually lost the first two weeks of the season because of Covid,” said Cardinal Gibbons head coach Tim Healy. “Then for us to have a condensed season like this and for these guys to put it together like this it’s been amazing.”
Neither team was able to solve the other’s defensive equation in the first half. Cardinals Gibbons kept the pressure on but Myers Park always had an answer to stop them.
It looked like the Crusaders broke through with a score with 10 minutes to go in the half. Off a Colin Blandford free-kick, Alec Perez headed it into the back of the net for an apparent score but an offsides call negated the play.
The two teams went to halftime scoreless but the Crusaders weren’t concerned.
“Actually, we were not worried as much as at the beginning of the game because we liked the way that we were playing and we liked the chances we were getting,” said Healy. “We knew that they were really good and well-organized defensively and we know we just had to keep it up and that’s what we did.”
The second half was where the patience paid off.
At the 46 minute mark, Luke Lillis worked the give-and-go perfectly, taking a nice heal pass from Perez and beating the Myers Park goalie for the first score of the game. It took over a half to get the first goal but the second one came just 2 minutes later.
Brendan Peeples carved up the Myers Park defense and went top left shelf with the left foot making it 2-0. A Myers Park handball in the penalty box gave Cardinals Gibbons their final scoring opportunity which Dean Mercer converted to make it a 3-0 game.
There may have been 5:44 left on the clock but the game was essentially over. With victory out of reach all that was left was to play for pride.
The thing is, so were the Crusaders. With 2 minutes to play Cardinals Gibbons was called for a penalty in the box. It gave Myers Park the chance to avoid the shut-out.
They didn’t count on senior goalie Clay Williams who just checked into the game. He wasn’t about to let his team down on the biggest stage and made a diving, stretching save to his right preserving the shut-out.
“He got hurt at the beginning of the season with a concussion,” said Healy. “He came back, played one game and got hurt again and those were his first minutes of the playoffs (in goal). So yes, proud of him is an understatement.”
Lillis was named the MVP of the game for his play as the Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders take home their first boys soccer state title since 2017. It’s their 7th championship in school history.
The Crusaders finished the odd covid season with a record of 14-2-1, with a 9-2-1 mark in conference play.