Cardinal Gibbons’ boys soccer team now has bookend postseason plaques from the N.C. High School Athletic Association to display in its trophy case.
And no one will remember the Crusaders didn’t win their conference title.
Gibbons added a 3A state championship to its 3A East Regional title with a 5-0 victory Saturday against Newton Foard at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field.
The Crusaders (23-2-1) lost twice to Chapel Hill in Big Eight 3A Conference play, including the regular-season finale. But they found a way to regroup after both defeats.
“I had a coach tell me, ‘You’re going to thank Chapel Hill. You’re going to come back to win a state championship,’ ” senior center-back Cooper Duplantis said. “At the time (of the first loss), we were undefeated and the loss brought us back to earth.”
Duplantis, a 6-foot-2 center-back who is committed to American University, was named the 3A championship MVP with a goal, two assists and strong defensive play. His goal on a penalty kick gave the Crusaders a 2-0 lead, his assist on Jack Donovan’s goal in the seventh minute opened the scoring and he assisted Alex Paladino for a 4-0 lead with 25 minutes remaining.
Senior goalie Gavin Smith recorded five of his team’s six saves, including one when he left his feet to deflect a shot aimed at the right corner. But he said Duplantis and the defenders in coach Tim Healy’s adjusted lineup did most of the work.
“All season the back four have been solid,” Smith said. “They haven’t let opposing teams get a lot of opportunities. When they do, most of the time I’m there and it’s not a difficult save.”
Healy moved Carl Palombaro and Drew Rabil to center-back. Palombaro had never played center-back, and Rabil was the leading scorer.
“Those two kids didn’t ask why,” Healy said. “They just did it. That’s the kind of attitude we needed to move forward.”
To reach the state final, Gibbons had to get past Chapel Hill or Jacksonville – a team that had knocked the Crusaders out of the playoffs the past two years. After Jacksonville beat Chapel Hill 4-2, Gibbons shut out Jacksonville 1-0.
“We knew it would be one of the two,” Healy said, “and we were going to embrace either one.”
Gibbons’ two goals not involving Duplantis were scored by Rabil and Austin Blondell. With a 4-0 lead and 25 minutes to play, Healy substituted and 26 Crusaders enjoyed the experience of a state final.
Newton Foard, the 3A West Regional champion, finished 22-6-2.