Published: Nov 23, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Nov 21, 2011 06:44 PM
WILSON - This deep in the playoffs, Cardinal Gibbons knew a flawless performance would be needed to take down undefeated and top-seed Wilson Hunt Friday night. But the Crusaders couldn't quite pull it off, falling 31-17 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA football playoffs.
"We knew tonight the team that made more mistakes was going to end up on the wrong side," Cardinal Gibbons coach Steven Wright said.
Hunt (13-0) capitalized on Crusaders mistakes and sent a steady diet of running back Josh Joyner at the Crusader line. Joyner rushed for 172 yards and scored three touchdowns to power the Warriors past the Crusaders.
"(He's) a phenomenal back. There were times we had him stopped and he broke a tackle and picked up another six or seven yards and got the first down," Wright said. "They kept drives going making key second and third down conversions," he added.
Cardinal Gibbons took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter on Benjamin Grazen's 42 yard on a fourth-and-two play. QB John Burton optioned to Grazen who raced down the right sideline for the score.
Then mistakes happened.
Special teams plagued the Crusaders. After Grazen's touchdown, Hunt's D'metrius McNeil returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards to the Crusader 1-yard line. Joyner punched it in for the score and 10-7 lead. Then a muffed kick return pinned the Crusaders at their own 4 yard line. The offense was able to move the ball, but Hunt forced Burton to fumble and the Warriors recovered at the Crusader 39.
Six plays later, Joyner added another touchdown, this time from 4 yards out to give Hunt a 17-7 lead at 7:13 in the second quarter.
Then the Warriors' Tim Applewhite blocked a Crusader punt and the Warriors recovered it at the Crusader 22 yard line. Three plays letter the Crusader defense bailed out the special teams by recovering a Jacob Page fumble at the Crusader 15 yard line. However the Crusaders were unable to use the momentum and ended up punting. The Crusaders entered the half trailing 17-7.
"We came out and shot ourselves in the first half," Wright said.
Caine Junginger kicked a 37-yard field goal to cut the lead to 17-10 early in the third quarter. But Hunt answered on its next possession with Joyner punching in his third touchdown from 4 yards out for a 24-10 lead.
Cardinal Gibbons (11-2) was able to respond in the fourth quarter on Matthew Skowron's 2-yard run. The TD made it 24-17 with 10 minutes left in the game.
Then the Crusaders snuck an offside kick that they recovered at the Hunt 47. But again momentum was elusive and the drive stalled at the Hunt 27. Burton's fourth-down pass fell incomplete and Hunt took over with 7:23 remaining.
"We didn't convert and that sucked the wind out of us a little bit," Wright said.
Hunt ate up yardage and clock and Joyner almost had his fourth touchdown but the ball popped free at the goal line. The ball sat alone in the end zone for a full three seconds before Hunt's Markus Hendrix jumped on it for the score and 31-17 lead with 2:43 left.
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