BELFAST, Maine — There likely are as many strategies to win a cross country race as there are winners, or at least that math added up Saturday among the three seniors who emerged with individual state championships.
For Fort Kent’s Matthew Toussaint, the plan was to do whatever it took to cap off his high school career by crossing the finish line first.
For Mitch Morris of Cape Elizabeth, it was to give his closest competitor a false sense of security before stealing said security away.
And for Aaron Willingham of Mt. Blue of Farmington, it was one final surge and no looking back.
“I couldn’t ask for a better way to end senior year,” said Toussaint, after completing the 3.1-mile course at the Troy Howard Middle School in 16 minutes, 28.79 seconds to win the Class C race.
“I think it was just mind over matter. I wanted it so bad. I tried to go out at a reasonable pace but gradually I had to increase it.”
Willingham won the Class A race with the best time of the day, 16:00.62, while Morris earned the Class B crown in 16:13.61 amid steadily deteriorating course conditions caused by a cold, steady rain that began midway through the event.
Western Maine schools swept the team titles, with Scarborough, Freeport and Merriconeag Waldorf School of Freeport winning in Classes A, B and C, respectively.
Class A: Willingham controlled the field for most of his race, only to be passed by Falmouth’s Bryce Murdick with less than a half-mile to go.
But Willingham, who failed to finish last year’s race because of a stress fracture, had enough of a kick left to retake the lead and sprint to the finish a half-second ahead of Murdick.
”He caught up to me with 600 (meters) to go and started to pull ahead but I saw the finish line and pushed back ahead,” said Willingham. “I didn’t want to look back. I was so scared about what I’d see.”
Scarborough, which lost to Falmouth by three points at the Western Maine regional, used tight pack running to score 73 points and win a three-way battle with the Yachtsmen (87) and Massabesic of Waterboro (89).
Windham (161) was fourth while Eastern Maine champion Hampden tied Mt. Blue with 168 points, with Hampden winning fifth spot via a sixth-runner tiebreaker.
Jacob Terry finished fourth behind Willingham, Murdick and third-place Iid Sheikh-Yusuf of Deering of Portland to pace Scarborough.
But the other four scoring Red Storm runners — Connor Doherty, Colin Tardiff, Andrew Sholl and Jacob Bloom — all finished within 17.02 seconds of each other between 14th and 22nd place to help Scarborough win its first state crown since 2011.
Sophomore Paul Casavant finished ninth to lead Hampden while teammate Caleb Lord was 12th.
Class B: Locked in a tight battle with Freeport’s Chandler Vincent, Morris let his rival take a brief lead fairly late in their race, only to retake control and surge to the finish line.
“I made the conscious decision to let him pass and let him think he beat me because it was toward the end and I was having trouble breathing — it might have been the cold or rain,” said Morris. “I let Chandler lead and coming up a gradual uphill, which I typically do very well at, I surged past him so I could lose him on the steep up and downhills and then keep surging through.”
Vincent’s second-place time of 16:26.50 helped Freeport — fourth at the Western Maine regional — win its first state championship. The Falcons totaled 57 points to best York (78), Cape Elizabeth (92), Greely of Cumberland (108) and Fryeburg Academy (123).
Eastern Maine champion Caribou was sixth among the 15 scoring teams with 157 points.
Class C: Toussaint battled George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill sophomore John Hassett for the second straight week, this time using a 5:15 first mile to pull away.
“I think what was going on in my head was overpowering everything else,” said Toussaint, who also defeated Hassett at the Eastern Maine championships. “It’s my senior year and my last race and I knew I could do it physically. It was just whether I’d let myself do it mentally, and I did.”
Hassett finished 16 seconds back in 16:44.10, followed by Western Maine champion Ben Allen of Winthrop, Tucker Pierce of Merriconeag and fifth-place Luke Thombs of Monmouth Academy.
Pierce’s effort and additional top-10 finishes by freshman Nick Neveu (seventh) and senior Zach Neveu (ninth) helped Merriconeag win its first state title with 72 points, six better than second-place Orono.
Orono was led by Tristan Butterfield’s sixth-place finish, while teammates Matt Keresey (11th), Lowell Ruck (16th) and Jonathan Spencer (20th) also scored top-20 efforts.
Defending state champion Boothbay was third with 80 points, followed by Winthrop (118) and George Stevens (125).
Boys teams qualifying for next Saturday’s New England championships at Manchester, Connecticut, were Scarborough, Falmouth, Massabesic, Freeport, Windham and Merriconeag.