AUSTIN — Sanger distance runner Jacob Perry has become awfully familiar with Decatur’s Taylor Clayton over the past couple of years.
The two Texas A&M-bound runners have competed against each other at the district and regional levels and on Friday squared off at the UIL state track and field meet in the Class 3A 3,200-meter run for the second straight year.
Once again, the two were neck-and-neck for much of the race before Perry pulled away over the final 300 meters to secure a gold medal by outkicking Clayton and winning the race by about 20 meters in a time of 9:30.73 — nearly three seconds ahead of Clayton.
“All the way up to state, we’ve been sharing tactics and we’ve been taking turns taking the pace and the wind,” Perry said. “We’ll start racing the last 1,200 meters, and it’s kind of open game from that point. We help out each other and get going, but then the last 1,200 it’s a race and a rivalry. The last 300, I just took off and wanted to leave it all out on the track.”
The gold medal for Perry is his best finish at the state meet after a third-place finish in the 3,200 a year ago, when he ran a 9:23.66 — seven seconds better than his winning time Friday.
“We took it out too slow,” Perry said. “We had a 70 [seconds] our first lap, and we usually hit 68. This humidity just kind of drained us. We took it out a little too slow.”
The two aren’t finished. Today, they’ll face off in what will be their final race as competitors as they enter the 1,600 with the top two qualifying times. At the regional meet a couple of weeks ago, Perry edged Clayton by literally a hair.
A photo finish determined that Perry’s head was just in front of Clayton’s chest at the finish line as the Sanger senior defeated his district foe by one one-hundredth of a second.
“I thought I had him, but he leaned forward and his head was in front of me,” Clayton said. “Apparently the head doesn’t count, though, and if I would’ve appealed that I could’ve maybe gotten the win. You could see the picture, and the tip of his head was in front of my chest.”
After that final race today, which both expect to be just as close as their regional showdown, the two will be preparing to be freshman roommates and teammates at A&M.
“We’re going to be working together from now on,” Perry said. “After we run the mile [today], that’s it — then we’re teammates.”
Perry knows that if he wants to double up as the distance champion in Class 3A he will have some stiff competition. Clayton will make sure of that.
“I’m going to put it all on the line, for sure,” Clayton said. “That’s what you’d expect. I’m going as hard as you can possibly go.”
After that, Clayton said he’s ready to join forces in College Station.
“It’s going to be a great adventure,” Clayton said. “He’s a fun person to be enjoying it with. He’s a great guy.”