RALEIGH — Cardinal Gibbons survived a furious comeback to outlast visiting Gray’s Creek 57-52 Friday night in the opening round of the 3AA state playoffs.
“I’ve got nothing but praise for Gray’s Creek. They were outstanding tonight. Fortunately we were five points better,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Steven Wright said.
Cardinal Gibbons (11-0) watched a 50-14 halftime lead nearly evaporate. The Crusaders were almost flawless, scoring seven touchdowns on seven possessions, but played more clock management and rushed the ball in the second half. “We went conservative, maybe too conservative,” Wright said.
Early in the third quarter, the Crusader offense sputtered, and Gray’s Creek (8-4) started rolling.
The Bears rattled off four straight touchdowns to close the gap.
Running back Ken McDowell had 254 yards rushing to eclipse 2,600 yards on the season. McDowell’s 10-yard run with 7:57 left in the game made it 57-38. Then, after a Crusader three-and-out, McDowell had a 43-yard catch-and-run for the score with 2:43 left. Bear QB Joe Wallace ran the conversion to close the gap to 57-52.
Then it was back to the Bear defense to stop Cardinal Gibbons one last time. The Crusaders turned to back-up QB Dante DiMaggio, who was in for the injured Shawn Stankavage. Stankavage left the game with a left knee injury.
The junior rushed 19 yards for a first down. DiMaggio then faced a crucial third-and-five with just over a minute left.
DiMaggio ducked his head down and got the needed five yards to seal the win.
“He came out and did everything we asked him to do. He made good plays and smart decisions,” Wright said of DiMaggio.
Cardinal Gibbons will host Wilson Hunt in the second round.