Can Cary football become a playoff team in 2019?

Cary High School has been consistent on the football field the last two seasons. Unfortunately for the Imps, that means consecutive 4-7 seasons and coming up short of playoff bids.

That’s not the kind of consistency Jason Wilkes is looking for heading into his second season as the Imps’ head coach. In 2017, Cary lost in some blowouts. The 2018 Imps dropped three conference games by a combined five points, and would have been just on the brink of a playoff berth had the ball bounced their way on a couple of plays.

“Last year we were right there,” Wilkes told the News & Observer on Wednesday. “We were five points short of a conference championship.”

In a two-point loss at Green Hope, Wilkes was missing 16 players with injuries or illness. Three weeks later they dropped a two-point game at Jordan and ended the season with a one-point home loss to Panther Creek.

“We were right there in the mix,” Wilkes said, “but we just didn’t finish. We have to be more consistent to make those routine plays. That’s what we preach to our guys.”

Wilkes has decided not to dwell too much on last season, but he has pointed out to his guys how a few plays here or there may have cost them a postseason bid, something that’s eluded the Imps since the 2012 season. The way Wilkes sees it, his guys can use those moments as learning opportunities. Whenever he mentioned ‘Power 5’ during the offseason, his team knew he was referring to those five points.

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At this year’s first team meeting, Wilkes asked each player to write down five things they wanted to work on individually so they could be more consistent. Wilkes knows his returning players learned a lot from last year, and being so close to the playoffs pushed them throughout winter and summer workouts.

If that carries over to the start of the 2019 season, Wilkes feels like the playoff drought can finally come to an end.

“The past decade or so Cary struggled overall,” Wilkes said. “But these kids have invested in this program the last couple of years and had some success, but I think they are right on the cusp of even better things because of their commitment. We are excited about what these guys can do, and I think they have a confidence about them now.”

Being in those pressure-filled, intense games, in front of playoff-type crowds, instills confidence in the team. Wilkes has seen that confidence throughout the summer with the Imps traveling to various 7-on-7 events.

He saw moments of that last year. Ironically enough, it started in the summer of 2018, when they went head-to-head with quality opponents like three-time 4AA state champion Wake Forest and Middle Creek at 7-on-7 scrimmages. Wilkes said his group went “toe-to-toe” with these programs, and his team suddenly realized they could compete with the better teams in the area.

Those close games that got away from them a year ago showed the players they are capable of competing for a Triangle 6 conference title in 2019. Wilkes said last years close calls was “eye opening.”

“They were right there battling,” Wilkes added. “In the past, some Cary teams would have packed it in, but they fought and this offseason, knowing they were five points short, it’s really been a chip on their shoulder.”

The 2019 defense will be led by senior Davin Vann (6-2, 273 pounds), a defensive tackle who recently committed to N.C. State. Vann has been on the varsity team since he was a freshman, and will draw a lot of attention this fall. The offense will be led by senior quarterback William Matejowsky (6-6, 195 pounds).

Last season Matejowsky completed 141 of 263 passes for 2,020 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also rushed for 221 yards -- which makes him the leading returning rusher -- and six more scores.

“We’re really excited to have William back another year,” Wilkes said. “He’s a student of the game, he’s always studying film. He brings a lot to the table. The really cool thing about him is he’s really bought into his role as the quarterback in our system, which is really like a point guard. He gets to distribute the ball and make the guys around him look good.”

Cary kicks off the 2019 season on Aug. 23 at Southeast Raleigh.

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.