FAIRVIEW PARK — If area track fans wanted a little excitement, then the eighth annual Patriot Athletic Conference meet was the place to be Thursday.
Firelands’ boys rallied in dramatic fashion to unseat seven-time defending champ Buckeye, 114½-106½ and win their first conference title since taking five straight in the Lorain County Conference from 2001-05.
On the girls side, Keystone flexed its muscles in winning 11 of 17 events for its sixth straight championship, while chalking up a meet-record 188 points in the process.
The Wildcats were led by senior Brittany Gates and junior Jenna Quillen, who each won four titles either individually or in relays. Keystone was also responsible for three of six meet records in the girls meet.
What seemed to be impossible or highly unlikely became reality for the Firelands boys.
Not only had Buckeye never lost a PAC championship meet, its seven titles came by an average margin of 60 points.
But Thursday, the Falcons found themselves in the lead following the 800-meter run. Firelands stayed on top until the Bucks tied the score at 106½ heading into the 1,600-meter relay — the final event of the day.
The meet ended in somewhat bizarre fashion.
Firelands clinched the title when Buckeye junior Michael Keith had the baton knocked out of his hand through incidental contact with Clearview’s Will Correa. It occurred during the last 80 meters of the second leg of the final relay. The Bucks and Clippers were battling for third place at the time, about 20-30 meters behind second-place Firelands.
A disgusted Keith looked for an interference call. None came, but by the time Keith finally collected himself and finished his leg the Bucks’ fate was long sealed.
Firelands finished second (3:39.36) in the race for eight points and Buckeye went scoreless with a ninth-place finish (4:22.93).
The Falcons were led by seniors Brady Jeffers, Dakota Dodge and Angel Alexander.
Jeffers teamed with Jordan Ruffner, Derek Reynolds and Michael Adkins for the clinching 1,600 relay. Earlier, he was third in the 1,600 (4:31.83) and second in the 800 (2:03.09). In addition, he chipped in with a third on Tuesday as a member of the 3,200 relay.
“The 800-meter race was huge for us (13 points),” Jeffers said. “It gave us a nice boost. Today hasn’t totally sunk in yet, but I couldn’t be happier.”
Dodge stole a win by lunging at the line in the 110 hurdles to edge Buckeye senior Sam Johnson, 15.87 to 15.88.
“I had no sense at all that I had won,” Dodge said. “It was a great race by Sam. I give him props. I guess it came down to who wanted it more. I just leaned and luckily I got it.”
Dodge later took second (42.57) and Alexander third (42.63) behind Keith in the 300 hurdles.
“This is great for the team, but especially for the underclassmen,” Dodge said. “It gets them rolling to be even better for next year. Hopefully, it forces them to work harder to become a great team.
“It’s great that we won, but it would have been nicer if it had been a neck-and-neck finish down to the wire with Buckeye for the last event. But winning is winning and this feels very satisfying.”
Despite the long drought between championships, Alexander felt confident the Falcons were up to task.
“We’ve worked hard on just finishing races,” he said. “When Buckeye got disqualified in the 800 relay, that just totally escalated our mood. We knew from there that we could actually accomplish our goal and do this (win).”
Ruffner’s win in the 400 (52.76) provided Firelands’ other win of the day.
Gates and Quillen both enjoyed stellar meets.
Gates led off the meet in style, winning her fourth straight long jump title (17-3¾), the first boy or girl PAC athlete to win a field event title four times. She followed it up with her first-ever individual win on the track with a victory in the 100 meters (12.76).
Gates capped her day in style by leading off two conference-record relays. She teamed with Nikki Tuttle, Beth Plas and Emily Peters in the 800 relay (1:48.25). Later, she combined talents with Quillen, Tuttle and Peters for the 400 relay (50.38).
“Everything has come together this season,” Gates said. “We’ve seemed to be lacking in a couple of areas in the past. This year everything was there. We really have the depth. We showed it today. It feels really great.
“This is a little bittersweet, too, for the seniors because we’ve become a very close team. It’s going to be sad not seeing them after this season really grow and turn into amazing track athletes. It’s great to come here and compete like we know how to do. That’s the sad part. It’s our last conference meet, but we’re ready to finish off the season and do what we know how to do.”
Quillen won her third straight title in the 100-meter hurdles (15.88), becoming the first PAC girl to ever accomplish that. She just missed the meet record (15.86). Quillen later set a meet record in the 300 hurdles (46.81) over defending champ Rachel Holowecky of Firelands (48.16), winning the event for the second time in three years.
“We’re definitely a better-rounded team,” Quillen said. “Becoming stronger and better is our focus, just improving. We definitely felt pressure today, so I’m grateful that we were up to task. I’m just glad that I was able to focus on my races and do the job I’m supposed to.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 440-329-7135 or email@example.com.