Cardinal Gibbons got timely, meaningful contributions from members of each class, took an early lead and never let it go, earning a 30-28 win over Clayton in the third round of the NCHSAA football playoffs on Friday. Cardinal Gibbons (11-2) completed an undefeated home slate for 2023. As the No. 5 seed, any remaining games for Cardinal Gibbons are guaranteed to be on the road.
Senior wide receiver Chet Yardley made the best of his one catch — a 74-yard touchdown strike from sophomore quarterback Gannon Jones. The Jones-Yardley tandem also had a 74-yard scoring connection to help Cardinal Gibbons defeat visiting Leesville Road (on October 27) and claim the Cap Six Conference championship.
Jones had touchdown passes Friday to senior Nick Leonard (23 yards) and sophomore Aiden Smalls (48 yards), as well.
The Crusaders opened the game’s scoring on Jones’ pitch to Smalls, who, then, heaved a pass to junior Sean Manuel who found the end zone.
Comets quarterback Jonathan Montague, though, was not done. Montague had a hand in all four of his team’s touchdowns, including three rushing. Montague and Deon Harris connected for an 18-yard scoring pass.
With 2:04 remaining, and the would-be final score set, Yardley recovered Clayton’s onside kick. Cardinal Gibbons needed to earn one first down before being able to run out the clock. On third down, Smalls ran play action and completed a pass to freshman Griffin Cockerham before the Crusaders closed the win.
Full circle moment
Cardinal Gibbons coach Steven Wright has enjoyed many life milestones in his 13 seasons at the Edwards Mill Road school. Friday’s home win over Clayton provided a most unique “full circle” experience for the Crusaders coach.
When Wright arrived at Cardinal Gibbons in 2011, his oldest daughter, Bell, was in elementary school. Bell was there when her dad led the Crusaders to a 40-26 win over Clayton on Aug. 19, 2011 in his very first game. Bell was a Cardinal Gibbons student when her dad led the Crusaders to their first state final in 2019.
And Bell was there Friday alongside her husband Sean, who serves in the United States Army.
Wright, his wife Rachel-Ruth, and other daughters Sophia and Riggin dropped off Sean and Bell Quinlan at the airport Saturday morning. The Quinlans are bound for Italy, where Sean will continue his Army service.
Bell did that after watching one last Cardinal Gibbons win over Clayton, just as she watched her Dad’s very first Crusaders win — over Clayton.
Thomas surpasses 2,000 yards
Rolesville junior Devon Thomas found the end zone to surpass 2,000 rushing yards this season and jumpstart the Rams’ offense in a 69-21 win over Fuquay-Varina. The visiting Bengals, who entered the state playoffs 4-6, scored the game’s first 14 points on a run by Malcolm Ziglar (a North Carolina commit) and pick-six by Nick Hardison.
Rolesville (12-1), riding an 11-game winning streak, will host Cardinal Gibbons next Friday for the second time this season. The Rams won the teams’ Sept. 8 meeting, 52-32.
Cleveland Stokes fires
Cleveland won a historic 13th game with its 56-13 home rout of New Bern. The Rams, who scored 42 first-half points, got 64 rushing yards and a touchdown from Tyson Stokes, who now has exactly 1,000 ground yards (17 touchdowns, 6.6 yards per carry) this season.
Stokes had a season high 151 yards (10 yards per carry in Cleveland’s 33-31 rally October 27 at Clayton that preserved the Rams’ undefeated season.
Cleveland (13-0), which played for the spring 2021 season’s 3AA state championship, will host Hoggard (Wilmington) in next Friday’s 4A fourth round.