It has been a year full of ups and downs for the Broughton boys soccer team, but it looks like it’s peaking at the right time.
The No. 11-seeded Caps are now headed to the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs after going on the road and defeating No. 6 seed Cardinal Gibbons 4-2 Saturday afternoon.
Broughton used goals from defender Joe Ruslander and midfielders Lucas Beeson, Bryce Meredith and Andrew Rossetti to top the Crusaders, who lost in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since joining the NCHSAA in 2005.
Broughton, which is now unbeaten in its last five games, will face the winner between No. 3 seed East Wake and No. 14 seed Jack Britt on Tuesday.
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“We’ve definitely matured,” Broughton coach Craig Brannan said of his team’s recent good run of form. “We had some immaturity go through the squad, and we had a bad streak for about three games. We had guys that weren’t giving the most in practice. We had some guys that weren’t buying into the team concept, and were thinking more about themselves instead of the team. We’ve really realigned from that.”
After what started off as a defensive-minded game, the Caps struck twice in a three minute span near the end of the first half.
The game’s first score came on a headed goal in the 31st minute by Ruslander, who was played in thanks to a precise ball from midfielder Cesar Gonzalez.
Originally lined up for a free kick, Gonzalez had his initial effort deflected away, but he regained possession before finding a soft spot between the last line of the Crusaders’ defense and goalkeeper Patrick Monahan. Ruslander got there just in time before Monahan, who came sprinting off his line, did.
“Nobody was marking me, and it just bounced lucky,” Ruslander said. “I got there before the keeper, and just headed into an empty net.”
Minutes later, Gonzalez set up another score for the Caps, this time finding Beeson, whose shot took a deflection off Gibbons defender Benjamin Page, leaving Monahan helpless.
Looking to change the course of the game right before halftime, Gibbons did so when it got one back in the 37th minute on a goal by junior midfielder Brad Beason.
The score gave the Crusaders newfound life, and they began the second half as the more aggressive side, earning several scoring chances.
“It was really important when we were down 2-0 that we got a goal, and we stepped up when we got it. You could tell in the second half,” Gibbons coach Tim Healy said.
But Broughton kept its composure, and restored its multi-goal advantage with Meredith’s score off a corner kick in the 53rd minute, marking the second time Broughton scored either directly or indirectly off a set piece. Brannan said his team’s performance on those plays were “huge.”
Still, Gibbons cut the deficit in half once more on a powerful free kick from junior midfielder Sal Bottone that found the back of the net in the 57th minute.
However, Rossetti’s ability to draw a penalty and subsequently convert from the spot with 10 minutes remaining secured the victory for the Caps.
“The key to us was just continuing to stay ahead of them. I think if it gets even, it would have been a different game,” Brannan said.