CARY — It was hard for second-year Cary wrestling coach Taylor Cummings to come to terms with his team's performance.
So much of this season had been spent focusing on the positives. After having several long-standing streaks snapped a year ago, Cary entered the 4A East semifinals on Thursday with a perfect 26-0 record. The talk was no longer about what was coming to an end, but what was beginning again.
But Cary fell flat - and appeared flat at times - in its 29-24 loss to Fayetteville Jack Britt on Thursday.
"We just didn't rise to the occasion. We didn't wrestle smart matches," Cummings said. "We had guys not wrestle to their ability. I don't know if it was the pressure, but that's no excuse because half of these kids have been here before.
He added: "We've wrestled a lot better throughout the season, and it's frustrating that we didn't wrestle our best tonight."
Britt went up 11-0 after the first three bouts before Cary's Carlos Alverez took a 4-0 win in the 120-pound class. Cary's Ryan Foran was pinned 3:47 into the next match, increasing Britt's lead to 17-3. But the Imps still had plenty of reason to hope.
After 132-pounder Alex Ynoquio won 11-9 to cut the match deficit to 17-6, four of Cary's top wrestlers were bunched together in a series of the next five bouts. The Imps won two of the next three bouts, with senior 138-pounder John Blackwell prevailing 6-2, freshman 145-pounder Mark Mulligan losing 7-2 and senior 145-pounder Adam Kugler getting a potential momentum-changing pin just 64 seconds into his bout.
Senior Steven Amaya, just 5-5 this season, came up big for the Imps with a 3-1 decision in the 160-pound class. Cary was down just 20-18 with senior Bo Mulligan up next.
But the elder Mulligan brother boasted a 43-1 record entering the day, but fell behind 8-1 and lost 10-8.
"Everyone's had those matches where you know you should've beaten that kid but you just can't get it going the whole match," Cummings said. "I can't get mad at Bo for that. I've been in the same position as he is in college and in high school. And Bo's going to work hard and get ready for (individual) regionals and the (individual championship) in a few weeks."
Cary needed to win at least two of the final three bouts to erase a 23-18 lead.
The Imps' Franklin McNamara lost 4-0 in the 182-pound class, but 195-pounder Travis Bach held a 6-3 lead with just 30 seconds to go.
But in those final moments, Bach gave up a takedown and three back points, causing him to lose 8-6 and allow Britt to clinch the match. With the 4A East final appearance clinched, Britt forfeited the final bout.
It was an improvement from last year, when the 19-time state champion Imps were knocked out of the first round for the first time in school history.
Britt (22-4) faced Southern Pines Pinecrest in the night's 4A East final. Pinecrest, which defeated New Bern handily in the semifinals - though late forfeits made the score 34-32 - dismissed Britt 34-27 and will be making its first-ever appearance in a state championship this Saturday.