RALEIGH — Chapel Hill’s 2-0 win Wednesday at Cardinal Gibbons was bigger than just another soccer score.
Chapel Hill locked up the 2013 Big-8 Conference championship with the Tigers’ first victory at Cardinal Gibbons since the two teams joined the same conference.
“This should clinch us a good playoff spot. It was great to get our first win here since … I don’t know when,” said Nate Hebert, who assisted Connor Albrecht on Wednesday’s first goal and scored the second one himself in the 71st minute.
The Tigers, ranked No. 1 among all Triangle schools by the News & Observer and No. 1 statewide in the 3A classification, finished their regular season at 21-1-1 and 14-0-0 in the Big-8.
“We’ve got a lot of good players, and they’re playing the way we’ve asked them to play,” said Chapel Hill head coach Ron Benson. “They’re playing with each other and for each other – and with skill.”
Chapel Hill and Cardinal Gibbons have been the two biggest guys on the block ever since they entered the 3A Carolina-6 Conference together in 2009 – CHHS stepping down from the 4A PAC-6 and Gibbons moving up from the 2A Mid-State Conference. The conference championship was always on the line whenever they met, and the Crusaders usually seemed to come out on top.
The Tigers enjoyed a sparkling year in 2009, splitting their regular-season matches with the Crusaders and then winning the rubber match 4-2 in the state playoffs’ fourth round. Chapel Hill advanced to the state finals that year.
After that, Gibbons took a 4-0-2 series advantage over Chapel Hill, winning three conference championships. Small wonder then, that Crusader fans, expecting a Gibbons win on Senior Night at the Raleigh parochial school, were discussing when to schedule a conference playoff game with Chapel Hill.
That all faded away in Wednesday’s cold winds, as Chapel Hill dominated the 11th meeting of these rivals. The series is now all square at 4-4-3.
Chapel Hill outshot Gibbons 19-8, and only four of the Crusaders’ shots were on frame. Gibbons managed just two shots out of a 5-1 edge in corner kicks, the best of which banged off the right post with 23 minutes left to play.
Chapel Hill’s back line – with Chandler Weedon in the middle, Stefan Steiner and Paul Miller on the flanks, and John Walden as a defensive midfielder – kept Gibbons out of the box most of the night. CHHS goalkeeper Justus Heizer needed to save just four shots, and only one of those seemed a real threat.
“Chandler Weedon wins just about every ball in the back,” Benson said. “Nate Hebert and the other guys are tough back there, too.”
Hebert almost scored the game’s first goal when he glanced a shot off the crossbar 11 minutes into the match. Six minutes later, he centered a ball from the touchline. Albrecht, celebrating his 17th birthday Wednesday, took the gift and one-touched a chip shot with his left foot over keeper Luke Deacon.
“This is the first time in a long time we’ve beaten out Gibbons for the conference championship, so I’m really happy and proud of our team right now,” Albrecht said.
In the 71st minute, Jacob Owens intercepted a Gibbons free kick near midfield and banged it back into the Crusader’s defensive half. Hebert played the ball off a defender and beat him into the box, where he sidestepped the keeper and slotted the insurance goal with 10:03 left to play.