RALEIGH — The matchup was a familiar one for Cardinal Gibbons and Jacksonville Tuesday, as the teams had battled for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A Eastern regional title two years in a row, but Jacksonville wouldn’t be denied a third time, beating the Crusaders 6-2 to head to the finals.
The Cardinals’ win dethroned two-time defending champion Cardinal Gibbons and sent Jacksonville to Saturday’s state finals game at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field.
Jacksonville (25-1) got on the board first when Gibbons goal keeper Luke Deacon stopped a Jacksonville shot but lost the ball in a crowd in front of the goal. Jacksonville midfielder Austin Patselas found it before Gibbons could clear the ball and scooted a shot past Deacon in the 26th minute.
The score boosted Jacksonville’s momentum and put Cardinal Gibbons (17-5) on its heels early on.
“For these guys mentally, I think that was huge,” said Jacksonville coach Dave Miller. “(Cardinal Gibbons has) pretty much owned us the past two years.”
The game was the Cardinals’ eighth consecutive regional finals appearance and the third straight for Gibbons.
The Cardinals scored again in the 33rd minute when Jacksonville’s Warren Washington capitalized on a two-on-one break, streaking down the left sideline and booting one into the right top corner. Jacksonville scored once more when midfielder Tyler Moore beat a Crusaders defender, bringing Deacon up and allowing him to shoot it past the keeper in the 39th.
Jacksonville led 3-0 at the half, but Cardinal Gibbons coach Tim Healy told his team that one goal was all it would take to get the Crusaders back in the game.
With another 40 minutes to play, Gibbons charged into the second half with Kye Rhode finding Ade Taiwo in front of the net on the Cardinals’ kickoff, but the play was called offside.
Less than two minutes later, Jacksonville keeper Zachary McCracken stopped a Crusaders shot and the ball was cleared before Gibbons could get to it. The Cardinals took advantage and further distanced themselves on the ensuing play with a C. Jay Sparks shot past Gibbons keeper Gavin Smith, putting the momentum back in Jacksonville’s hands.
Gibbons got on the board in the 51st minute with a goal by sophomore Cooper Duplantis, but the Cardinals scored again in the 53rd.
“The one thing the guys didn’t do is give up,” Healy said. “We get a goal, and we’re back in it, but to do that, you have to take risks and they were able to take advantage.”
The Crusaders had a number of near-goals with shots hitting the crossbar and sailing just wide before junior Ade Taiwo fired a shot into the goal in the 67th minute.
Jacksonville scored once more for the 6-2 win, but Healy looked at the overall season as a successful one.
“With us losing as many starters as we did and for us to make it back to this point of the tournament says a lot about our guys,” he said. “(Jacksonville has) a lot of experience, and with our inexperience, maybe the nerves got to us a bit, but our seniors pour their hearts and souls into this team, so it’s a hard way to go out.”