May 27, 2015

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Gators fall just short in quest for team championship

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, May 13, 2014

PEARL — Sharquez Houston extended his hand behind his back and waited to get the baton from Vicksburg High teammate Tedarius Brown for the final leg of the 4×100 meter relay Monday at the Class 5A state track meet.

In front of Houston lay 100 meters of open track and a clear path to the top step of the medal stand. Behind him, however, was an empty hand and the unmistakable sound of metal on rubber. It left an echo that lingered in the air all afternoon.

A few hours later, the dropped baton and the 10 points it might have cost the Gators turned out to be the difference between a runner-up trophy and the school’s first track and field state championship.

Vicksburg totaled 73 points, three shy of team champion Oxford’s 76, to cap a remarkable yet bittersweet day at Pearl High School.

Vicksburg High's Leon Miles runs in the 110 meter hurdles Monday at the Class 5A state track meet in Pearl. Miles finished fifth in the event, but later won the 300 hurdles. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)
Vicksburg High’s Leon Miles runs in the 110 meter hurdles Monday at the Class 5A state track meet in Pearl. Miles finished fifth in the event, but later won the 300 hurdles. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

“We just didn’t think it was going to be that much of a factor. We happened to go over to the board and realized we were real close in this thing. So it sparked a little something,” Vicksburg coach Shaun Archer said. “So close, yet so far away. It was heartbreaking, but we did real well.”

That the Gators were even in position to challenge for a team title was an amazing feat. They had no distance runners and only competed in two field events.

They did, however, have the best athlete in the meet. Terrell Smith won individual titles in the long jump, 100 and 200 meters.

Vicksburg also got a one-two finish by Leon Miles and Tavares Johnson Jr. in the 300 meter hurdles. Johnson added a second silver medal in the 110 meter hurdles.

In all, the Gators won four state titles and seven medals in their 10 events.

“I’m proud of these guys. I really am,” Archer said. “At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t expect a finish like this. Just looking at what we were doing, it didn’t look like we were going to finish in this position. As we got closer to the end of the year we started PR-ing in quite a few events.”

The 4×400 meter relay team of Jaylin Smith, Darius Tucker, Johnson and Miles finished third.

That was the final event of the day, and the Gators still had a chance to overtake Oxford for the team championship.

Trailing by four points heading into the relay, they needed to beat Oxford by at least three places, and likely to win the race. The latter didn’t happen as Canton won by nearly two seconds.

Oxford came in fourth in the relay, which ended any chance Vicksburg had. Vicksburg ended up third in the relay as Miles was nipped by .01 seconds at the line by Pascagoula anchorman Tymaris Odoms.

Even if Miles had held on for second, the Gators still would have finished one point behind Oxford.

The narrow defeat only put a slight damper on the day for the Gators, though. Smith set the overall state record in the 200 meters and swept the 100 and 200 for the second consecutive year.

Miles, a sophomore, overcame a fifth-place finish in the 110 meter hurdles to win going away in the 300. His winning time of 38.74 seconds was nearly a second better than Johnson, who was awarded the silver medal despite having an identical time to Canton’s Kevin Ratliff.

“I skipped my ninth-grade year running track, so to come back my sophomore year and beat a lot of seniors felt good,” Miles said. “Before the gun went off, the words in my head were, “I’ve got this.’”