RALEIGH -- With the Carolina 3-A conference title on the line, the stakes were high and the teams Cardinal Gibbons and Orange responded with big plays, big hits, and a big defensive stop – the last the courtesy of Cardinal Gibbons as they held off visiting Orange 28-21 Friday to remain atop of the conference.
“Yes. Yes it was,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Steven Wright answered when asked if this was a statement win for his school.
Cardinal Gibbons improved to 9-0 and 4-0 in the Carolina 3A with the win over Orange who now slips to second place at 3-1 in conference play and 7-2 overall.
“Hats off to [Orange head coach] Pat Moser. They gave us everything we could handle,” Wright said.
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Tied at 21-21 midway through the fourth quarter, a scrambling Shawn Stankavage found Trevor Zaruba in the back of the end zone to give the Crusaders the go-ahead score 28-21. The 12-yard strike was on a third and three play. Three plays earlier the pair had hooked up for a 13-yard pass play on a 4th-and-7.
“I was thinking throw it to your read, which he missed. Then I was thinking throw it away,” Wright said of Stankavage’s scoring play. “He’s one of those kids that has that ‘It’ factor,” Wright added.
Earlier in the third quarter, Stankavage took a shot to the chin on a late hit that resulted in a personal ful and player ejection. Stankavage left the game and missed the last two plays of the third quarter. But at the start of the fourth quarter Cardinal Gibbons still had possession and Stankavage returned. Three plays later Stankavage threw a 14-yard pass to Zaruba, a precursor of things to come, for a 21-14 lead.
“[Stankavage] got the wind knocked out of him. He told me ‘give me a couple plays to catch my breath,’” Wright said.
It was the first lead in the game for Cardinal Gibbons but it was short lived. On its first play after a kickoff, Orange handed off to Patrick Pettiford who raced 74-yards up the middle for the tying score at 21-21.
Cardinal Gibbons would answer with the Stankavage-Zaruba score. Then later the Crusade defense stopped the Panthers on a 4th-and-14 play at the Crusaders 40 yard line with 1:53 remaining. Cardinal Gibbons would run out the clock with a couple rushing first downs for the win.
“We knew it would be tough. We knew it was going to be a playoff atmosphere,” Wright said.
Earlier Orange started the scoring on its first possession. Quarterback Sean Motley passed to Michael Bolden for a 5-yard scoring strike capping an 80-yard, 15-play scoring drive. The Panthers converted on a 4th-and-18 from the Cardinal Gibbon 37-yard line. Motley found Jon Evans down the sideline who adjusted and came back for the ball to haul it in at the Crusader 3 yard line. Three plays later the Bengals went up 7-0.
Cardinal Gibbons answered on its first possession. Stankavage worked the ball down field completing three passes for a total of 31 yards. Stankavage then called his own number on a fake handoff, trotting into the far side of the end zone untouched. The extra point banged off the upright leaving the Crusaders trailing 7-6, ten minutes into the first quarter.
Orange responded on the following drive. Jalen Pittman bust through the middle, made one move, and raced to the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown run on a third-and-five. Juan Torres kick made it 14-7 early in the second quarter.
The Cardinal Gibbons offense sputtered in the second half before catching a break. Pittman fumbled the exchange on a handoff and Robert Mohney recovered for the Crusaders at the Panthers 38-yard line with 1:35 remaining in the half.
The Crusaders moved the ball to the Orange 1-yard line where Stankavage scored on a 1-yard keeper with 16 seconds left. Stankavage then ran for the conversion to tie the game at 14-14.