Cruz Culpepper defended his state title by scorching the field in the final 500.
You could feel the tension in the air.
That invisible electricity that lingers with the gravity of a big race, those make or break moments that string across 15 or so minutes worth of racing. It's that gentle mixture of excitement and anxiety that blends in the bottom of your stomach to produce anticipation.
Nearly a dozen boys cruised through the opening mile just over 5:09. Their dozen sets of spikes sent dust into the air as they zig-zagged their way up the steep hill, over and off into the second mile - the mile that had made so many races so far.
Setting the modest early pace were familiar challengers Grahm Tuohy-Gaydos and Colin Szuch. While the duo kept the pace rolling, behind them the masses nipped at their heels, some holding on for dear life, others bidding their time, waiting to strike first or last.
Among them were Dylan Schubert, and defending state champ Cruz Culpepper. A year ago Schubert split the field wide open with an early surge, but on this day he held his cards much closer to the chest, like 4:04 miler, Culpepper, who was licking his chops at the modest pace.
By the two-mile marker the once-large pack had been split in half, with all the favorites still in place, eyeing each other - who would make the first move?
Every stride brought them closer to the finish, and every stride played into Culpepper's hands, as the defending state champ waited, and waited, and waited to launch his lone attack upon the field.
Over the hills and through the woods to Penrose Stadium we go...
And when the woods parted for a brief moment, just before the final creek crossing, Culpepper unleashed that famed kick. Off and away he went.
Behind him the field exploded into fractions as Schubert and Le Roux gave chase, but no could match Culpepper's quickening stride.
When he took that final right-hand turn into Penrose, the Niwot-heavy crowd erupted, as their own would defend his title. Culpepper tore into the stadium and lifted his arms in victory, signaling "two" for his successful repeat.
Culpepper dropped a 12 seconds on the pack, finishing in 15:36.
Behind him, the race for second ensued. Schubert chased, and had to hold off Le Roux in the process. The Thompson Valley senior took the runner-up finish in 15:48, just two seconds ahead of the Cheyenne Mountain sophomore, who finished third in 15:50.
Durango's Luke Tichi came flying in for a fourth-place finish in 15:53, and his finish would hint at Durango's fortunes on this day, but we'll come back to that... Meanwhile, Tuohy-Gaydos, the maker of the race, held on for a fifth-place finish, just one second back in 15:54.
While Culpepper had successfully defended his state title, the question turned to who claimed the team title. It appeared close upon first glance, but when the tally came in it was all Niwot.