Cardinal Gibbons’ first football season in 4A was a mixed bag.
The Crusaders, which moved up from 3A to 4A last year, went 7-5 and finished third in the PAC-6 with a 4-2 record. While winning six games in a seven-game stretch at one point last season, Gibbons also lost three games in which it led in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think the move up (to 4A) was a huge adjustment,” Gibbons coach Steven Wright said. “The biggest difference between 3A and 4A is the depth. I think the talent for the most part between the starting groups is comparable but the depth is a big asset when you start getting banged up during the season.”
Who are some players to know?
Never miss a local story.
Much of last year’s roster returns, including 14 starters, eight on the offensive side and six on defense. The group of returning starters includes senior quarterback Anton Stoneking, who missed a significant chunk of last season with a collarbone injury.
“I’m ready to get back at it for my senior season and end things on a good note,” Stoneking said. “I think we’re going to be pretty good this year. Our motto is ‘Fearless,’ and we’re going to carry that into every game.”
Running back Dalen Spruill, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards last season, will also be back. Junior Jack Biestek, who filled in at quarterback when Stoneking was injured, will return as well and could see time at several positions.
Wright, however, feels his most significant returners could be the senior trio of Jack Bowler, Noah Fitzgerald and Cameron Loy on the offensive line.
Where must the Crusaders improve the most?
The squandered fourth-quarter leads were troublesome, and Gibbons struggled with turnovers late in the season, committing nine in their last two games.
“I think it’s about finishing games and taking care of the ball,” Wright said. “I think if we do that we put ourselves in a position to be successful. It’s easier said than done, but I think it’s very important for us to do that and has been a point of emphasis.”
Can Gibbons challenge for the PAC-6 title?
Wright thinks his team is in much better position to compete for the league title, pointing to improved depth and the fact this is a much more experienced squad than a year ago. Gibbons’ title chances are also enhanced by it hosting both defending PAC-6 champion and likely favorite Hillside and last year’s runner-up Northern Durham this season.
More on the Crusaders
Last year: 7-5 (4-2 PAC-6 4A), first round 4A playoffs
Five-year average: 9-4 (4-2)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Coaches: Steven Wright (head coach); Bill Liedy (assistant HC/OC), Will Phillippi (DC/LBs), Brad Keeney (DL), Nick Drew (DBs), Josh Proctor (WRs), Daniel Polk (QBs), Brad Altice (Ks), Chris Walker (Defensive assistant), Morgan Sheldon (defensive assistant), Ryan Clark (offensive assistant), Ron Clark (offensive assistant).
Contributors: Anton Stoneking (Sr., QB), Dalen Spruill (Jr., RB), Jack Biestek (Jr., QB/RB), Jack Bowler (Sr., OL), Noah Fitzgerald (Sr., OL), Cameron Loy (Sr., OL), Alex Kuzy (Sr., WR), Grayson Lemon (Sr., WR), Brandon Henderson (Jr., DL), Alex Bates (Sr., DL), Christian Gruebel (Sr., DE), Trevor Kirsch (Sr., LB), Marcel Smith (Jr., CB); Eric Farley (Sr., S).
The main number: 3 – Losses suffered by Cardinal Gibbons last season in which it held a lead in the fourth quarter.
Aug. 19 at Athens Drive, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25# vs. Southern Durham, 7:35 p.m.
Sept. 2 vs. Green Hope, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Broughton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Cedar Ridge, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 BYE
Sept. 30* at Riverside, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* vs. Hillside, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* at Jordan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* vs. Person, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* at East Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* vs. Northern Durham, 7 p.m.
*Conference game; #Thursday game