AUSTIN — In a star-studded field for the Class 5A boys 800-meter relay on Saturday night at the UIL state track and field meet, Ryan head coach Janson Head knew his team would need to have everything go right to get a chance at a medal.
When Maurice Gordon’s handoff to anchor Cameron Williams was botched, causing Williams to come to nearly a complete stop before getting the baton, it appeared any hope was gone.
When Williams recovered to cross the finish line in fourth place, it appeared the Raiders had just missed out on their first state medal since 2012.
Then came the news, Katy Morton Ranch, which finished just ahead of Ryan, was disqualified for an out-of-zone handoff between its second and third leg, and the Raiders were bumped to third and awarded the bronze medal.
“I don’t know, when the ‘race under review’ came up, I thought I was disqualified, honestly,” Williams said of the delayed handoff from Gordon prior to his anchor leg. “He [Gordon] yelled my name and I turned around and got it and just took off.
“When I got it, my confidence went extremely low. I almost just wanted to start jogging. I thought at the curve it wasn’t looking so good, but I kept pushing.”
Good thing he did.
Williams ended up passing Converse Judson, Manvel, Longview, Spring Westfield and Temple, which was also disqualified, on the final curve and straightaway. The Raiders crossed the finish line in front of 19,258 fans in 1 minute, 26.24 seconds — far off their best time in a field featuring four of the nation’s top times in the race.
Paul Hunter, a senior who ran the second leg, said he never lost confidence even after seeing Gordon and Williams botch their exchange. He knew from experience, as Ryan suffered the same fate at the Texas Relays and still managed a third-place finish.
“At Texas Relays it was [lead leg] Terrell [Cross] and me,” Hunter said. “He had to stop and hand it to me sideways. It was terrible. But we still finished third, and it was on this track.
“Cameron was huge. We put a lot on his shoulders, but that’s what we expect from him.”
Until the mistake before the anchor leg, the Raiders, who entered with the 12th-best time in the nation, were right there with all the titans in the race, including some of the nation’s best like Cibolo Steele, Morton Ranch, Temple and the nation’s top team and winner from DeSoto.
Ryan’s school record of 1:25.77, which Head was convinced the Raiders would have to break, still stood following the race. Williams, despite his outstanding anchor leg, was still surprised his team medaled with its time.
“I was shocked,” Williams said. “I thought we got like fifth. We haven’t ran a 1:26 since maybe district. We’ve ran 1:25s since then, at area and regionals. We could’ve ran better than we did.”
That’s perhaps the biggest disappointment for Head, who was thrilled with the way the race ended but was left wondering what could have been.
“I just was disappointed because I thought we were in really good position, especially being inside leverage on the other teams [in Lane 5]. Maurice ran a really good leg, and I felt like we were about to have a chance. I was more disappointed that it was such a bad exchange than thinking we’d been disqualified.
“I really thought in order for us to medal we’d have to break the school record, and do it without any doubt. I’d also say we’d have to have great exchanges. None of that happened, and to still medal in such a great field with the nation’s best teams, I’m thrilled to death with the results. The only thing I’m disappointed in is we can’t go run it again and see what we could really do.”
Gordon, a junior, also competed in the 5A boys 200 meters shortly after the 800 relay. He finished eighth in a time of 21.64.
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.