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Cardinal Gibbons stops Rolesville, advances to NC 4A state championship game

·3 min read

The rematch is set.

Cardinal Gibbons — a 36-28 winner over visiting Rolesville in Friday’s state semifinals battle of last spring’s 4A and 4AA Eastern regional champions — advanced to its third straight N.C. 4A football state final.

The Crusaders, who opened the season by welcoming two-time reigning 4AA state champion Chambers (Charlotte; previously Vance), will meet the Cougars next Saturday in N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.

Cardinal Gibbons’ and Rolesville’s potent offenses traded touchdowns and extra points within the game’s first eight minutes, with the Rams striking first. The Crusaders secured the lead for good with 7:25 remaining in the second quarter. Joshua Stoneking — a 6-foot-3 227-pound defensive lineman and fullback — scored on a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Cardinal Gibbons’ Carter Scearce (2) congratulates Oliver Evans (6) after his pass breakup during the first quarter. The Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders and the Rolesville Rams met in the NCHSAA 4A East Regional Final in Raleigh, N.C. on December 3, 2021
Cardinal Gibbons’ Carter Scearce (2) congratulates Oliver Evans (6) after his pass breakup during the first quarter. The Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders and the Rolesville Rams met in the NCHSAA 4A East Regional Final in Raleigh, N.C. on December 3, 2021

Stoneking kept the quarter opening drive alive with a fullback dive on fourth-and-1 from the Rams’ 14-yard line just inside the nine-minute mark. Cardinal Gibbons sophomore Ryan Ziegler added a two-point conversion for a 15-7 margin.

“Overall, we were attempting to obviously eat clock on offense and limit their possessions. We did a really good job of that through three quarters,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Steven Wright said.

“I think all three phases did a phenomenal job today.”

The Rams’ 28 points represented the team’s lowest scoring total since an Aug. 27 loss (55-26) to East Forsyth.

Rolesville quarterback Byrum Brown kept his team in the game with a touchdown pass to Rory Jones Amen Hetep on fourth-and-7 from the Crusaders’ 13-yard line. Rolesville (9-6), though, drew no closer after its subsequent, unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt left the halftime score 15-13.

Donovan Shepard — the N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) single game rushing yardage record holder — catalyzed Cardinal Gibbons’ possession that opened the second quarter. Shepard’s 43 yard-run preceded a 3-yard carry by Stoneking, and two runs for 5 yards —the latter a 3-yard scoring effort — by Ziegler.

Crusaders kicker Ethan Hastings converted each of his four extra-point attempts. Hastings’ third-quarter scores were after Ziegler’s touchdown, and another 7-yard touchdown run by Blake Raphael with 2:40 left in the stanza.

Cardinal Gibbons’ Ryan Ziegler (24) runs for the first down against Rolesville’s Jacorrey Bible (11) during the first quarter. The Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders and the Rolesville Rams met in the NCHSAA 4A East Regional Final in Raleigh, N.C. on December 3, 2021
Cardinal Gibbons’ Ryan Ziegler (24) runs for the first down against Rolesville’s Jacorrey Bible (11) during the first quarter. The Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders and the Rolesville Rams met in the NCHSAA 4A East Regional Final in Raleigh, N.C. on December 3, 2021

Shepard’s 39-yard run into the end zone’s left corner set up Hasting’s fourth extra point that cemented Cardinal Gibbons’ scoring with 7:10 to play. Shepard’s touchdown came one play after Crusaders cornerback Will Mason corralled just the fourth interception of a Brown pass through Rolesville’s 15 games.

“I think the interception was a true turning point, when they scored off of that,” Rolesville coach Martin Samek said. “I think without that, it’s a tighter game. But they played a very good game, and their defense played very well.”

Cardinal Gibbons (13-2) was led defensively by Ethan Grace, who had nine solo tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks

Shepard accounted for 183 of the Crusaders’ 269 rushing yards. Brown passed for 187 yards, including a scoring pass to a leaping Noah Rogers (in the end zone’s deep left corner) with 22 seconds remaining. Amen Hetep corralled a batted two-point conversion pass for what proved to be the final margin.

Mason recovered Rolesville’s subsequent onside kick.

“We take every single segment of practice seriously,” Mason said. “Whether it’s special teams, whether it’s just going over coverages, route review, everything, we take it fully seriously, because you never know what it’s going to come down to.”

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