The Evans track team did not have any hurdlers compete in the Columbia County track meet. No one on the team had even attempted the event until three weeks ago, coach Eric Watson said.
The Knights somehow in that time span trained well enough to glean eight important team points from hurdling events at the Region 3-AAAA track meet on Wednesday. On a day of blistering performances, it was little things like this that pushed the Knights to a championship.
"To be very honest, we went into it hoping they would just qualify (for the finals)," said Watson, referring to the workman-like hurdling efforts of Trevor Foreman and Yuri Quinnie, neither of whom finished better than fifth in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. "But you start to add up the little bitty things, and it makes a difference."
Balanced with strong individual performances -- the Knights had plenty of those, too -- Evans was able to edge Lakeside by two points for the title, 94-92. Westside, which played host to the meet, was third with 74.
Evans scored at least one point in all but three of the 16 events. Tavarus Ferguson's school-record leap in the triple jump (44 feet, 10r inches), William Wren's laboring win in the 800-meter and a second-place finish in a tough, competitive 1,600-meter relay race highlighted the team's performance.
The Knights ran the relay in a school-record time of 3:28, which was still four seconds slower than Butler, which enjoyed a sensational final day of a meet that began on Saturday with field events and qualifying races. Junior Akeem Johnson, a 5-foot-10, 135-pound ball of relentless energy, was the high-point scorer of the event (29.75), running on two relay teams, finishing second in two events (high jump, 200 meters) and winning the 100-meter dash over state-caliber sprinters Justin Lord (Glenn Hills) and Jonathan Finch (Evans).
Like many of his teammates, Johnson said he was competing in honor of slain friend Brandon Taylor, a Butler student who was fatally shot Jan. 26. His teammates scribbled R.I.P. "B" on their shoes, and Johnson wore a memorial T-shirt in honor of his friend and Pepperidge neighbor between events.
"He was my inspiration," Johnson said, shortly before anchoring that 1,600 relay which ran a blazing time (3:24) that could contend for state next week in Jefferson.
Johnson edged Lord by .02 seconds in the 100, winning in 10.61, though Lord was pleased to come back to win the 200 in a strong 21.59.
"He beat me by a hair," the closely cropped Lord said while nodding toward Johnson's longish braids.
The most exciting moment of the event might have come Saturday. Johnson, Westside's Josh Davis and Hephzibah's Levtone Reddick engaged a three-way high-jump battle that would leave one person home for states. None of the three cleared 6-foot-4, so the bar was lowered to 6-3. All three missed their first attempt, before Davis, going last, nailed his second leap to earn first place.
Wren, in addition to winning the 800, anchored Evans' 1,600 relay team that clinched the team's victory, running a 50.56 split that would have been a school record in the 400 had he run that time in an individual race. A forward on the soccer team, Wren had scored the team's only regulation goal in a 2-1 penalty-kick playoff win the night before and was exhausted after another hot, humid day of competition.
Grovetown's Myles McDavid and Westside distance runner D'Andre Smalley both scored 26 points in individual events to finish just behind Johnson in the race for the points crown.