RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The question last week for Cardinal Gibbons was if the Crusaders would look past Pine Forest and come out overconfident. Understandable, seeing how they dispatched the Trojans by 42 points in the opening round of the football playoffs.
From the opening drive, it was clear the Crusaders would stick with the “boringly efficient” style of play building a 21-7 lead at the break.
“I think at this point in the year — and it’s probably the same way with every other team still practicing — is the opportunities are shrinking,” said Crusaders head coach Steven Wright. “That means the number of teams are shrinking, and that means focus tends to narrow just naturally with your team.”
That doesn’t mean it was a cakewalk. Richmond County managed to hold the Crusaders out of the end zone in the third quarter and cut the lead to 7 points with a touchdown in the fourth. It was gut-check time, and Cardinal Gibbons responded with the same resilience they’ve shown all year.
“We were up 21 and had an opportunity to make it 28, and then we find ourselves at the beginning of the fourth quarter, you know, it’s 21-14 and it’s really become a ball game,” Wright said. “There was never any panic on the sideline out of our kids. They remained focused and were able to execute when we needed to get it done.”
The 14-point win was a change from the usual blowout victories dished out by Cardinal Gibbons. Outscoring teams 341-62, the Crusaders carry an unblemished 8-0 record into this week’s game with New Bern.
The Crusaders didn’t play the Bears this year, but New Bern upperclassmen have not forgotten Cardinal Gibbons taking them down 42-7 in the second round of the 2019 playoffs en route to the state final. Crusaders quarterback Andrew Harvey threw for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Cameron Noble caught seven passes for 133 yards while Brock Biestek rushed for two more scores. The Crusaders defense forced a pair of fumbles and picked off three passes.
“That’s a group that’s going to be coming over here hungry. You know they haven’t forgotten the way that season ended in 2019 and I have no doubt they’re going to come out here and give us their best punch,” Wright said. “That’s really been motivation for us to remain focused and to see if we can go out here against another quality team and see if we can make a little bit of noise here in the eastern regional final.”
The plan is the same as it was last week and the week before: Cardinal Gibbons wants to get out to a fast start and grab an early lead. It’s no secret what their opponents want to do, either.
“Just executing cleanly as we go, whether that’s on offense, or defense, or in special teams,” Wright said. “What they’re going to want to do, and it’s no secret, is they’re going to want to control the ball. They’re going to want to see if they can get out to an early lead and then control possession and the time on the clock.”
The Crusaders will face off against the New Bern Bears Friday night at Cardinal Gibbons High School. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.