Jack Jennings put his right index finger against his lips as he crossed the finish line in a gesture to silence the doubters.
The senior at Mendham, fueled by predictions that both he and his Mendham squad wouldn't finish first, had just proved nearly everyone wrong by pulling off a stunning upset victory over Liam Murphy of Allentown in one of the fastest and greatest races in course history at Saturday's NJSIAA Group Championships at Holmdel Park.
Jennings, the underdog based on Murphy's 18 second edge in Holmdel PR"s (15:32 to 15:50), stayed on Murphy's heels for almost the entire 3.1 miles until exploding to the front with about 100 yards left on his way to a breathtaking and electrifying victory in 15:19, No. 6 all-time in course history. The victory by Jennings helped trigger NJ#5 Mendham to its third straight Group 3 title and a Morris County course record average 16:21.
The Villanova-bound Murphy, a Foot Locker finalist last year and the indoor Meet of Champions 3,200 winner last winter, was second in 15:21, No. 8 in course history.
The times by Jennings and Murphy are No. 2 and No. 3 all-time in meet history, and are even more impressive when you consider that the race was run into a gusts of wind that produced a headwind at the start line of up to 30 miles per hour.
Only Jason DiJoseph of Paul VI ran faster than Jennings and Murphy at the Group meet when he ran 15:17 to win Non-Public A race in 1988, which stood as the course record for 18 years.
The only five runners who have ever run faster at Holmdel than Jennings, who has narrowed his college choices to Villanova and Georgetown, are all NJ legends. They are Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's (14:53), twins Joe Rosa (14:56) and Jim Rosa (15:15) of West Windsor-Plainsboro North, Craig Forys of Colts Neck (15:16), and DiJoseph (15:17).
Jennings, second to former teammate Jack Stanley in the Group 3 race last year, was one of six Mendham runners to dropped PR's at Holmdel. The runner with the biggest drop was Tim Lanahan, who was a huge key to Mendham's defeating NJ#2 West Windsor-Plainsboro North to earn the three-peat.
Lanahan finished 14th in 16:46, a Holmdel PR by a whopping 37 seconds! Lanahan was the No. 4 man for Mendham, marking the first time all season that he scored for his team.
Mendham coach Roy Hamblen feels his team has a chance to knock off NJ#1 Christian Brothers Academy at the Meet of Champions next Saturday at Holmdel Park. Girls race is at 11 a.m. and the boys race is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. The top two teams and top 10 runners from each Group race and 16 wild card teams (eight boys and eight girls) and 20 wild card runners (10 boys and 10 girls) advance.
"I think we have a shot to win next week,'' said Hamblen. "I don't think we've run our best race yet. I think everyone can drop their times even more.''
Mendham was one of five boys teams to repeat as state champions. NJ#1 CBA, NJ# 4 Haddonfield, Haddon Township, and Newark Academy also successfully its titles. Cherokee was the only new champion, winning the Group 4 title for the first time in 12 years.
This is the second straight year that South Jersey teams won three of the four boys public school titles. Last year, Kingsway won Group 4 , Haddonfield was first in Group 2 and Haddon Township captured the Group 1 championship.
Shaw Powell won his second straight title in 16:00 to ignite NJ#1 Christian Brothers Academy to its fourth straight title and state record 30th Non-Public A championship overall, 23-54 over St. Peter's Prep.
CBA ran its best race of the season by going 1-3-4-6-9, averaging a meet best 16:15, No. 9 all-time in Holmdel Park history, with a 1-5 compression of just 32 seconds.
Powell is the fourth runner in the great history of CBA to win two state XC titles. Powell joins Chris Horel (2004-05), Mike Mazzaccaro (2009-10) and Blaise Ferro (2015-16) as two-time state XC champs for CBA.
CBA heads into the M of C next week favored to win its third straight title and extend its state record to 24 championships.
To fully comprehend and appreciate just how dominant CBA has been, wrap your head around the fact that in the 46 year history of the M of C, CBA has won half of the championships.That's right, the score is CBA 23, the rest of the state 23. How crazy is that??
NJ #5 Haddonfield and Haddon Township, two of the state's most dominant programs, added to its rich tradition of excellence.
In the Group 2 race, Haddonfield broke a meet record when it defeated runner-up Bernards, 29-80, to capture its third straight title and its 18th overall, the third most in state history behind CBA (30) and Bernards (23).
Haddonfield went 2-3-6-11-17, had a 1-5 split of 55 seconds and averaged a Group 2 record 16:34, which broke the Group 2 meet record of 16:35 set by Voorhees in 2015.
Haddon Township raised its state title total to 13 with a dominating performance in Group 1 as the Hawks put its five scored runners in the top 22 on the way to a 53-142 victory over Central Jersey champion Shore Regional. The 85-point margin of victory is the largest since Bernards defeated Henry Hudson by 95 points, 15-110, in 1981.
Newark Academy, a program that just doesn't get talked about enough as being a consistently strong, made it two in row and three titles in the past five years in Non-Public B by defeating runner-up Immaculata, 56-69.
NJ #3 Cherokee used a 2-10-12-24-47 finish and averaged a school course record 16:34 to defeat runner-up and NJ#7 Ridge, 95-123, to win its first Group 4 title since 2007 and its sixth overall.
Duke-bound Austin Gabay of Cinnaminson won the Group 2 race in a school record 15:48 to become the fifth state XC champ from his school. Gabay broke the school record of 15:51 that was set in 2003 by Jon Anderson, a FL finalist who won the 1,600 at the Meet of Champions in 2004.
Junior Jackson Braddock of Southern became the first boys state champ from Southern when he used a big surge in the back woods to get a gap on defending champ Ethan Wechsler of Cherokee on his way to a huge PR of 15:49. Wechsler was second in 15:51.
Braddock's 15:49 makes him the fifth fastest runner ever from Ocean County at Holmdel Park. The Ocean County runners who have gone faster are two-time Meet of Champions XC winner Devin Hart of Point Pleasant Boro (15:34 at the 2017 Group 2 meet,) Pete Hess of Toms River North (15:37 in 2002), Kyle Kroon of Toms River South (15:37 at the 2013 M of C), and Carlos Hanze of Central Regional (15:48 in 1981).
Senior TJ Harkins became Immaculata first state champ by winning the Non-Public B race in 16:44 to help lead his team to a runner-up finish that earned Immaculata a berth in the Meet of Champions for the first time ever.
Pitman senior Sebastien Reed won the Group 1 championship for the second straight year in 16:11, seven seconds faster than his previous Holmdel PR.
Junior Edwin Klanke, second in 16:04, and sophomore Luke Bradley, fifth in 16:19, led St. Peter's Prep to a school course record average 16:41 and its third-straight M of C berth. This is Bradley first year of XC after giving up crew.