Liam Murphy of Allentown HS and Devin Hart of Pt. Pleasant Boro waged a battle for the ages and put an exclamation point on their electrifying showdown with an epic finish that produced two of the fastest 3200 meter times in New Jersey history at Saturday's 51st NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
The two distance running stars, well under nine minute pace the whole race, traded big surges and exchanged the lead multiple times as they threw everything they had at each other over the final three laps at the Bennett Center in Toms River.
Then on the final lap, with the crowd roaring louder and louder with each stride they took, Hart, the defending champion, made a big push with about 75 meters left to open a five meter lead and it looked like he would hold off Murphy and retain his title.
But Murphy, a junior, was able to dig down deep one more time and find one more gear, which enabled him to pull even with Hart about 15 meters from the finish. And then with one final burst, Murphy edged past Hart just a couple strides before the line to score the monumental upset victory, sending spectators into a frenzy.
And check out the mind-numbing times they ran!
Murphy crossed the line in 8:54.22!! That shattered the meet record, is No. 2 all-time in N.J. indoor history, and No. 1 in the nation this season. Hart was second in 8:54.45! That's No. 3 in N.J. indoor history, and No. 2 in the nation this season.
The only New Jersey high school runner to go faster than Murphy and Hart is the legendary Edward Cheserek, who ran a still standing national record 8:39.15 for two miles at the Millrose Games as a senior at St. Benedict's Prep in 2013.
Murphy, who blasted a 59 point for the last 400 meters and dropped a 29 point for the last 200 meters, admitted there was a moment during the final lap when he wasn't sure if he could rally past Hart.
"Honestly, on that last lap I thought he had me, but I just told myself to keep pushing as hard as I could and I was able to pull it out at the end,'' said Murphy, who sliced a whopping 20 seconds off his PR. "I knew it would take everything I had to beat a great runner like Devin. This is all so surreal right now.'''
Murphy's time blew his mind.
"I was really just hoping to run faster than the 9:14 I ran last week (to win the Group 3 race), so to run this time is just unbelievable. I knew I'd have to run fast to have a chance to win, but I wasn't expecting this. This is all just so incredible.''
Top Eight Finishers in the Boys 3200m
|1||Liam Murphy||11||Allentown HS||8:54.22|
|2||Devin Hart||12||Pt. Pleasant Boro HS||8:54.45|
|3||Jack Jennings||11||Mendham HS||9:18.11|
|4||Kevin Antczak||11||Mainland Regional HS||9:18.59|
|5||Martin Riddell||11||Haddonfield Memorial HS||9:18.81|
|6||Ethan Wechsler||11||Cherokee HS||9:21.02|
|7||Nick Lundberg||12||Freehold Township HS||9:23.79|
|8||Stephen Daly||11||Delbarton School||9:24.66|
The Stanford-bound Hart came into the race as a big favorite.
Not only was Hart the defending champ, but he has five M of C titles on his resume (two in XC, two outdoors in the 3200 meters, and one indoors in the 3200 meters), he owns an outdoor 2-mile PR of 8:53.36, and he ran 8:59.32 to win the Central Jersey Group 2 Sectional title, which is 15 seconds faster than Murphy's previous PR of 9:14.93.
"I knew I had to do everything I could to try to stay on Devin for as long as I could to have a shot at winning this,'' said Murphy. "I was able to stay there and pull it out."
The race started out as expected with Hart taking out it out fast, but he couldn't shake Murphy as Hart led by a stride at the 1,600 mark in 4:28.5.
Hart stayed in front until Murphy made a bold move to the lead with about 500 to go. But Hart responded with his own surge, and jumped back to the lead with 300 to go, but Murphy stayed right on Hart's hip to set the stage for dramatic conclusion to this All-Time Classic, which will go down as arguably the greatest race in NJ high school indoor history for any distance!