East Wake’s 50-41 football victory over Harnett Central on Friday night pushed the Warriors to 8-2 overall, easily East Wake’s best record since the 2006 team finished 9-3.
No East Wake team since had won more than four games. The Warriors will be the Greater Neuse 4A Conference’s No. 2 seed and can get a high seed in the playoffs with a home victory over rival Knightdale on Friday.
East Wake’s losses were to teams ranked in the News & Observer’s top five, Wake Forest 27-18, and Greater Neuse champ Garner 33-21.
Since John Poulnott’s first year as coach in 2010, the program has slowly progressed, finishing 2-9, 3-8, 3-8 and 4-7.
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This season’s turnaround prompts memories and a great deal of optimism for a program looking to get back to the good old days – the 2002-06 seasons. In that time, East Wake had an appearance in the Eastern Regional final (fourth round of state playoffs) in 2002, produced conference titles in 2002 (14-1) and 2004 (11-1) and never finished worse than 8-4 (2005).
That stretch was preceded by a 6-6 season in 2001 and 3-8 season in 2000.
East Wake’s last trip to the state playoffs was in 2009 – the 14th and final season for coach Jimmy Williams, who is now coach at West Johnston. The Warriors were defeated by Southern Durham in the first round, capping a 4-8 season that yseason.
Poulnott took time to reflect on the season:
Q: Do the kids realize what they’ve done already this season?
A: There’s a combination of they realize what they’ve done, and that they had the team to do it last year. We feel a year behind where we wanted to be, but there’s a lot of excitement about where they’ve come.
Q: You have a lot of the same players in key positions, right? What’s changed?
A: You’ve got a combination of weight room, and a great summer with camp. We faced a lot of adversity and made it through a lot that tested us as a group, and came out of a lot of that stuff some programs don’t face. We played a lot of good teams this summer to get ready, mentally ... changing our scrimmage and facing Green Hope and putting ourselves in a game with a little more competition. I think the biggest difference is the scheme we went with defensively is a little more aggressive – challenges people physically instead of letting people drop the ball off and get first downs.
Q: Are we talking about playoffs, or not?
A: We’re talking about not being complacent. Just because the newspapers are putting us at 9-1 going into the playoffs, we aren’t talking about that. We’re just trying to make sure our kids are staying hungry.
Q: Aren’t playoffs the goal every year?
A: Oh yeah, always.
Q: After four seasons of gradual improvement, do you feel already at this point in the season you’ve gotten over the hump?
A: You still look at class to class and what the expectations are and hope that winning will breed more winning. There’s a lot of things next year we will have to replace to return to where we are this year. A lot of that’s going to come down to us recognizing what we have to put on the field year-in and year-out.