Micah Lawson made history by pulling off a stunning comeback victory, and Christian Brothers Academy returned to glory and added to its rich history by extending its state record to 25 titles on Saturday when the NJSIAA Meet of Champions celebrated its 50th year on probably the warmest day in meet history at Holmdel Park.
Rahway's Lawson, who has shown a lot of resiliency by overcoming multiple setbacks this fall, never stopped believing in himself all season.
He didn't stop believing in himself when he was sidelined by a groin injury in September. He didn't stop believing in himself when he was hit by two different bouts of illness, including right before the Union County Championships when he ran sick and placed seventh. So there was no way he was going to stop believing in himself when he was stuck at the back of the lead back halfway through the biggest race of his life on the biggest stage, and trailing by five seconds with a half mile to go!
Lawson, sitting in 11th place at the mile mark after hitting it in 5:15, could have easily panicked, but instead he stayed patient, dug down deep, and then pushed himself harder than he ever has before in the back woods to rally for the breathtaking win.
Keeping himself within striking distance as he moved through the bowl, Lawson started to crank it up after he came out of the bowl, and found himself in fifth place after a 5:10 second mile.
But Lawson was still well behind the leader, Patrick Ditmars of Cherokee, who made a huge move in the bowl and kept pushing the pace as he opened a five second lead at the two-mile mark. It looked like Ditmars might steal the race, but then Collin Boler of Delbarton, who was leading a big chase pack, overtook Ditmars and made a big push going toward the woods.
That's when Lawson, who was five seconds behind and in sixth place when he turned into the woods, went to work and poured it on in the back woods, blasting past all five runners ahead of him, including Boler on the short rise just before coming out onto the final straightaway.
Once he got the lead, Lawson wasn't going to give it up as he kept the pedal to the medal and slammed the door on his remarkable come from behind victory by storming down the final straight as he put the finishing touches on a blazing 5:08 over the final 1.1 as he stopped the clock at 15:33!
There have been a lot of great comeback victories over the years at the M of C, but I can't ever remember someone taking down five runners that deep into the woods to get the win! What a remarkable finish by Lawson!!!
Lawson, one of eight runners who broke 16 minutes on a day that saw the temps hit 70 degrees, won by six seconds over Ditmars, who ran a great race to finish second in a Cherokee course record 15:39, 20 seconds faster than he ran in the Group 4 race last week.
Lawson, the first Rahway runner (boy or girl) to ever win a M of C XC title and just the second ever from Union County, was mobbed by family, friends, and teammates after he crossed the line.
Lawson, still undecided about his college plans, said he didn't let the groin injury or the illnesses stop him from keeping his eye on winning NJ's biggest prize.
"I always felt that if I kept working hard this could happen,'' said Lawson, who is unsure if he will run at the NE Regional Championships in two weeks. "My coach (Leon Bunion) has been telling me all season, "why not you.'' And I never stopped believing that.''
Lawson, who gave up basketball last winter to run indoors for the first time, said the race didn't go the way he anticipated, so he had made some adjustments.
"I never expected to be in the back of the lead pack at the mile, so I had to work my way up,'' said Lawson, who joined the late Cliff Sheehan of Westfield (1980) as the only runners (boy or girl) from Union County to win. And after Boler made a strong move to open that gap at two miles, I told myself I had to make a big move right there if I wanted to win this race,'' said Lawson. And was finally able to get past him in the woods, and then I finished with everything I had.''
This race, which was missing Group 4 champ Lucas Reguinho of Elizabeth (rolled an ankle while training this past week) had no clear favorite coming in. But no one was picking Lawson, who embraced the underdog role.
"Micah likes being underestimated, it fuels his fire,'' said Bunion. "I think we were the only ones that believed he could win today, but again our motto is ''why not you.'' There are some very talented young men in NJ, and there were quite a few guys who could have won today, but we knew if he just kept himself in the race he had just as good of a chance as anyone else. Micah is obviously very gifted, but he works very hard and has fully bought into the methods of my madness, and it's paying dividends.''
Lawson wasn't on anyone's radar coming into this season after placing 52nd in this race a year ago.
DRIVE TO 25
The boys team race went as expected as CBA, ranked No. 1 in the state all season and currently No. 3 in the nation,, accomplished one of its biggest goals of the season by getting back on top after finishing second to Union Catholic last year.
The Colts, who averaged 16:07.2, avenged its loss last year with a 44-98 victory over runner-up Union Catholic. UC, ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 21 nationally, averaged 16:31.8 and ran without injured star Jimmy Wischusen.
Group 4 champion Cherokee was third with 106, Westfield was fourth with 121, Ridge placed fifth with 179, and Group 2 champ Haddonfield finished sixth with 183.
With the victory, CBA has won four of the last five titles and the Colts extended their state record to 25 M of C titles. That's one more than the rest of the state combined. That's right, the M of C all-time scoreboard now reads, CBA 25, the rest of NJ 24. There was no boys team scoring in 1972, the first year the meet was held.
CBA's top five were senior Nick Sullivan, fifth in 15:44, sophomore Joe Barrett, seventh in 15:45, junior Jack Falkowski, 15th in 16:16, junior Conor Clifford, 20th in 16:24, and senior Lucas Ward, 23rd in 16:27.
Al McCafferty was the coach of the St. Joseph (Met.) squad that won the very first boys M of C team title in 1973. Now, 49 years later, Sean McCafferty has captured his fourth M of C title as the coach at CBA, where he took over for the legendary Tom Heath in 2016. How awesome is that!!!