After a stretch on the bench following a yellow card in the second half on Saturday, Cardinal Gibbons forward Ade Taiwo took out his frustration on Northern Guilford.
With the score knotted 2-2 and less than 7 minutes left in the Crusaders’ fourth-round playoff match, Taiwo took a throw-in from Gibbons keeper Luke Deacon near the right sideline at midfield. Taiwo cut toward an opening in the middle of the field and beat several Nighthawks defenders before banging in a left-footed kick from 25 yards out to make it 3-2 with 6:35 left in the game.
Gibbons (17-4-4), a two-time defending state champion, made the lead stand up and advanced to a meeting with either Southern Nash or Jacksonville in the Eastern 3A finals.
“I just looked up and saw there was an open gap and took the shot,” said Taiwo, a junior forward. “Luckily, it went in. Kyle Unruh made a run across the left to open up the space for me and that was it.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Gibbons had taken a 2-0 first-half lead on a goal by Matt Springer in the 10th minute and a goal by Kye Rhode in 24th minute. But Northern Guilford (16-8-2) fought back to tie the score with a goal late in the first half and a second-half goal with 9:37 left.
“For whatever reason, we hit a lull and were not able to fight out of it,” Gibbons coach Tim Healy said. “When they scored that (first) goal, we went into a lull instead of stepping it up. In the second half, it continued. Then they scored that second goal.
“Then all of a sudden, it kind of brought us out of it. Especially, Ade Taiwo. You could see that he knew he needed to step up. And he did in a big way. … That’s just how he is. Whenever he is in the game, he is always going to be a threat.”
Gibbons is a young team, the result of losing eight seniors from last year’s squad and eight more players to the CASL Academy team, a developmental team whose members cannot play for their high school.
“At first we were upset that we lost so many players,” Taiwo said. “But I feel like we were almost up to being better than last year’s team.”
The Crusaders had not given up a goal in the first three rounds of the playoffs, but found themselves in a physical duel with a familiar foe. Yellow cards were handed out to players from both teams and Northern’s Armin Ahmetovic received a yellow and red card in the final minute when his emotions boiled to the surface.
“This is the third time in the last four years we have played Northern Guilford in the playoffs,” Healy said. “We knew what to expect. They are very well organized. We knew they were going to be a tough team to play. They combined really well in the middle and gave our midfield a lot of problems.”
The hard-fought victory brought out the best in the Crusaders at the end, Rhode said.
“We’ve had a lot of close games against a lot of good 4A schools this year,” Rhode said. “We’ve been able to fight to the end. This time, we pulled it out. We are used to it.”
Gibbons defeated Jacksonville in the Eastern final a year ago, but Rhode said he didn’t care who the Crusaders faced in the next round.
“We look forward to it, regardless,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what their record is, we just come out there and play our game and hope for a win.”
If the Crusaders can keep it going, two more wins will mean a third straight state title from a team that has been forced to grow as the season progressed.
“We have a lot of guys who have not been in this situation, a lot of guys who have not been in the environment where a lot of pressure is on them,” Healy said. “For this team to come along and fight through it, our seniors Kye (Rhode) and Kyle (Unruh) did a really good job of not getting down and also understanding that it was going to be a slow process.”
And, Taiwo made sure on Saturday, a process that continues for another game at least.