RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Cardinal Gibbons football team is in rarified air. The Crusaders are one of two 4-A schools in the state still practicing. They carry a perfect 9-0, and this Friday night at Kenan Memorial Stadium will look to bring home the first state football championship in school history.
With all this on the line, one would give the team a pass if they showed some nerves in practice.
Watching the Crusaders on the field Tuesday, if it weren’t for the warm weather, it would be hard to tell today from a random mid-season workout.
“I think we have had a focus of going 1-0 each week. That’s the goal. That’s the objective. What’s behind us is behind us,” said head coach Steven Wright. “We’ve got one objective in front of us and that is really the mentality moving forward.”
One of the things Cardinal Gibbons has over other squads is its ability to adapt and overcome. Some teams fall apart when hit with something different. A bad bounce or bad call will crush some teams.
The Crusaders have an uncanny ability to stay calm, be it on offense or defense, then identify and rectify situations before they get out of hand. Last week in the semifinal, a fumble returned for a touchdown early in the second half gave New Bern the lead 14-8. It was just the second time Cardinal Gibbons trailed in a game all year. The only other team to hold a lead on the Crusaders is Millbrook. Instead of it being a momentum-changing play, the Crusaders took the wind out of the Bears’ sails by answering the score with one of their own and immediately retaking the lead.
“To see those guys respond the way they did with no panic on the sideline nobody was kind of jumping on anybody else,” Wright said. “It was just a lesson. We know what we have to do, so let’s go out there and do it.”
The Crusaders put up 22 unanswered points and played shutout defense the rest of the way winning 30-14, but it was a lesson learned.
“For the first time all year, we lost the turnover battle, and so I think there’s just been a renewed focus on ball security, but then also creating turnovers,” Wright said. “That tends to be the great equalizer in the game of football, and the one stat that seems to stand out most in terms of wins and losses is who won the turnover battle.”
When asked about what makes his team so businesslike during this playoff run, Wright pointed to having been there before. He also referenced his players’ championship pedigree in sports other than football.
“We got a bunch of multi-sport athletes many of whom that won a state championship, some of whom just five weeks ago in lacrosse. We hope that there’s kind of some kind of familiarity there with the process to the actual event itself, and hope that gives us a little bit of an advantage of having a group of kids that have been there before.”
Cardinal Gibbons will be facing its toughest test yet in the championship game. Grimsley is also undefeated, averaging more than five touchdowns per game and scored 42 or more points four times this year.
“Very talented, well-coached bunch,” Wright said. “They’ve got certainly a number of players that stand out on film and will have her hands full. It’s one of those weeks where the further you get in the playoffs the better the teams get and that’s the case this week and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Kenan Memorial Stadium.