BOARDMAN - The Division II regional cross country race came down to seniors Drake Lohnes of West Branch and Nate Boyer of East Liverpool.
Lohnes edged Boyer by four-hundredths of a second Saturday to become the first West Branch boy to win a regional cross country title.
"If I got him, I got him by an inch," Lohnes said.
Lohnes topped the 128-runner boys field, covering the 3.1-mile course at Boardman High School in 16 minutes, 37.97 seconds.
Boyer was second in 16:38.01, while Marlington senior Colin Eggleston was another second back.
"Eggleston and Lohnes came out of nowhere," Boyer said.
"They were coming from somewhere," East Liverpool coach Scott Thornberry said. "When they came around the bend, there were five of them and they were jockeying for position. It looked like the peloton at the Tour de France."
The finish line looked more like a sprint race, except the runners didn't think about a lean.
"It didn't cross my mind, it was just go," Lohnes said. "It was awesome."
"After 4,900 meters, it's hard to make an agile move like a sprinter would," Boyer said.
Lohnes surged ahead at the finish for the victory.
"It was the most brutal finish of my life," Boyer said. "Until the top four crossed the line, I didn't know who would win it."
"It was a heck of a race," West Branch coach Kevin Buckley said. "Drake's competitive spirit showed today. It was all heart at the end."
Both runners advanced to the state meet for a third straight season next Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.
They knew where they stood coming into the regional meet.
"I was looking on the Internet - Coach doesn't like me doing that - but I like knowing where I am at," Lohnes said. "I knew Boyer was good. Today, I knew I was first to fourth. And I was fortunate enough to win it."
Even though Lohnes was fourth at the Malone district meet last week, Boyer knew he could win Saturday.
"He always comes out of nowhere in the postseason races," Boyer said.
"I think people have a lot of respect for his running to begin with," Buckley said. "He ran a tremendous race. He did what he needed to do."
After Saturday's win, Lohnes has changed his goals for the state meet.
"Yes," he said. "There's four regions in the state, so I think you're ranked in the top four."
"He's getting back to where he was at the beginning of the year," Buckley said. "He's right where he needs to be. He's been there. He knows the course since he ran there last year."
It will give Lohnes one last chance to break the 16-minute barrier.
"The goal at the beginning of the season is to break 16," Lohnes said. "I know I can do it. It's in my mind. This is it. It's my last hurrah."
Thornberry said Boyer had another similar finish early in the season.
"When he's running, all bets are off," Thornberry said.
Virtually assured of a state berth, the leaders gave it their all coming down the stretch.
"The pressure was off Nate knowing he is in the top 16," Thornberry said. "He always wants to win and you have to salute him for that."
The top four teams and top 16 individuals advance to the state meet.
"Next week it's all about place and time," Boyer said. "I'm going to run as fast as I can."