BELFAST — When Rhode Island runners Joe O’Rourke and Andrew McClure came through the first-mile marker at the Festival of Champions cross country race neck and neck and with a 10-second lead over Bangor’s Gabe Coffey and the rest of the pack, Coffey thought his chances at winning were out the window.

“I kind of thought that they were going to run away from us, honestly,” Coffey said. “I was kind of competing against the Maine guys that I know well.”

McClure, of Burrillville High School, fell off the pace by the second-mile mark and it was O’Rourke (Classical High School) and Coffey who were neck and neck, while Brunswick’s Will Shaughnessy, Falmouth’s John Auer and Scarborough’s Tristram Coffin were all close behind when the lead pack crossed the two-mile line.

Coffey, though, emerged victorious with a time of 15:54, eight seconds faster than Auer and 10 faster than Shaughnessy.

“I didn’t think that we would catch up to them,” Coffey said. “But there was a place in the race where we were at two miles and it was like they are ahead and the only way for me to bridge the gap was to run off of them until I get to the top of the hill.”

Coffey took off at the two-mile mark and never looked back. The competition of not just runners from out-of-state but also his friends from all over Maine helped fuel the senior’s fast time.

“I just wanted to run competitively and run with the guys that I don’t really get to run with up in Bangor,” Coffey said. “I generally just run with Hampden, and that’s about it, so it’s really nice to run with some of the guys that I run with in the summer that I know.”

For Shaughnessy, Festival of Champions was a warm-up of sorts and also a gauge to test where his times are heading into the bigger meets. It turns out that the junior is ahead of schedule.

“My goal was to be better at states than I was today and my goal for states was under 16, so today I tried to run 16:10,” Shaughnessy said. “I think I ran 16:02, so I am very, very happy with that. I wanted top-10 and I thought maybe that was a stretch, but I found myself at second place at two miles and I thought, ‘I guess I will keep it going.'”

Coffin finished in fifth with a time of 16:06.

While Coffey won the race, the Rams came in second to Brunswick in the boys team title race. Scarborough finished third.

The story of the girls race was who was going to challenge Sofie Matson of Falmouth for the title. Matson won as a freshman in 2017 by 19 seconds.

This year was much of the same, to a degree. Matson took off early and carried a strong lead throughout. She had a nine-second lead at the first mile and a 14-second lead at the second mile, and went on to win with a time of 18:21, four seconds slower than her freshman year.

However, Jillian Richardson of Edward Little stayed nearby throughout. Richardson battled at the beginning with Gorham’s Kate Tugman in pursuit of Matson. Richardson pulled away and was in sole possession of second place at the second mile but didn’t have enough real estate to catch Matson at the end, finishing in 18:29.

“Leading up to the race I wasn’t really sure what other girls would be doing, but once the race started I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to out-kick them at the end because I don’t have a very strong kick,” Matson said. “It was nerve-wracking and I knew I didn’t want to have it come down to a kick at the end with (Richardson).”

Ami Beaumier of Bonny Eagle finished in third with a time of 18:45, leading Bonny Eagle to a first-place team finish. Tugman ended the race in ninth with a time of 19:02.

Mt. Blue’s Kahryn Cullenberg finished in 16th place with a personal best time of 19:33.

“I have been sick this week and so at the end of the race my throat was pretty bad,” Cullenberg said. “But other than that I felt really great.”

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