Tuesday, September 26, 2023

State playoffs: New Hanover Wildcats unable to claw back from early deficit in loss to Cardinal Gibbons

WILMINGTON — The final score didn’t dictate how the play-makers matched up moving into Friday’s second-round 4A playoff match-up, but fourth-seeded Cardinal Gibbons did what it needed to do and used an impressive effort on both sides of the ball to hand No. 1 New Hanover a 31-13 season-ending result at Legion Stadium.

The Wildcats knew they would be facing a mirror image of themselves on the offensive side of the football and senior quarterback Aton Stoneking was as advertised. The Crusaders compiled 448 yards of total offense thanks to a good mix of run and pass. Junior running back Dalen Spruill finished with 30 touches for 200 yards, while Stoneking connected on 15-of-22 attempts and 210 yards through the air. Wide out Alex Kuzy added a pair of touchdowns in the result to go along with over 100 yards receiving on six catches.

The Wildcats moved the ball between the 20s for much of the night, but didn’t get enough consistency late in drives to put points on the board. Penalties stalled its first possession of the game, which gave Cardinal Gibbons the early momentum. The Crusaders had a pair of 99-yard touchdown drives in the game, which kept New Hanover’s defense on the field for long periods of time.

The Crusaders were up 15-0 before New Hanover found the end zone when Blake Walston hit Jyree Taylor on a 14-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to pull within six.  Wiz Vaughn had a 28-yard catch and run on the 76-yard drive, while Lamont Howard made a 15-yard catch to move the chains on 4th and 9, setting up the only offensive touchdown of the game for the Wildcats.

With Cardinal Gibbons driving late in the first half, Spruill scored on fourth down from four yards out, grabbing a 21-7 advantage with 3:21 to play in the second quarter.

New Hanover had a chance to get within one score before the break, but a quick three-and-out by the Wildcats gave the Crusaders good field position at midfield and 25-yard field goal with no time on the clock made it, 24-7, moving into the third quarter.

A turnover on downs to open the second half hurt New Hanover’s chances to get within striking distance as the Wildcats were unable to claw back from the early deficit. New Hanover was also unable to convert on 4th and goal from inside the five late in the third quarter, which turned into a second 99-yard scoring drive by Cardinal Gibbons.

The Crusaders fumbled the ball during a pair of key possessions throughout the game, one of which came on the last scoring drive, but Kuzy recorded his second touchdown on the recovery in the end zone to close things out early in the final period. Gibbons also coughed it up on the final drive of the second quarter, but the ball squirted out of bounds as the Cruasders grabbed three-points on the successful field goal attempt just before halftime.

Walston went 13-of-22 at quarterback for 139 yards and one touchdown, but the sophomore was sacked three times.  Howard had a team-high three catches for 68, but Vaughn was held in check as the slot back finished with just 60 total yards of offense following his four-touchdown performance the week prior.

New Hanover had chances to seize momentum multiple times on Friday, but it just wasn’t the Wildcats night. New Hanover had just 181 yards of total offense. Junior linebacker Grant Daley had the Wildcats only other touchdown of the game on a 95-yard fumble recovery with under three minutes to play in regulation.

As back-to-back Mideastern Conference Champions, New Hanover finished the year 8-5 and say good bye to a number of key starter, including Jomaious Williams, Lamont Howard, Jahann Simmons, Keegan Santos, Jyree Taylor, Shyion Jennings, LJ Ballard, Malcolm Hill and Khalil Barfield-Toney.

Cardinal Gibbons improved to 12-1 overall as the Crusaders head back on the road to Fayetteville for a date with second-seeded Cape Fear in the third-round of the 4A playoffs on Friday, Dec. 2.

Box score

 Gibbons   15-9-0-7=31

NHHS        7-0-0-6=13

 Scoring Summary

 First Quarter

Cardinal Gibbons- Anton Stoneking, 34-yard pass Alex Kuzy (PAT, Riley Myer) 10:46

Cardinal Gibbons- Jalen Brooks, 2-yard run (2-point conversion, Stoneking to Kuzy) 2:39

 Second Quarter

New Hanover- Blake Walston, 14-yard pass to Jyree Taylor (PAT, Westley Gaines) 11:56

Cardinal Gibbons- Dalen Spruill, 6-yard run (PAT, Myer) 3:21

Cardinal Gibbons- Riley Myer, 25-yard field goal; 00:00

 Fourth Quarter

Cardinal Gibbons- 1-yard fumble recovery by Alex Kuzy, 11:54

New Hanover- Grant Daley, 97-yard fumble recovery, 2:57

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