But as the Blue Devils were missing some depth further back in the field at the Cobb County Corps Property, the Raiders used that to their advantage.
Walton’s middle-of-the-pack runners worked together and produced strong enough finishes to help the Raiders overcome Marietta by two points and win the county meet for a second straight year with 67 points.
Even with Ben Pleak winning the individual championship in 15 minutes, 49.20 seconds, Jake Bagwell (15:56.50) in third and Jaylen Ferguson (16:26.50) eighth, Marietta had to settle for second with 69 points.
Harrison was third with 87 points by having its top five runners place between 11th and 22nd. Pope (87) was fourth, with Patrick Fleming second behind Pleak at 15:50.70. Kennesaw Mountain was fifth with help from Alex Dunlap (16:10.30), who was fifth individually.
Walton had its top five runners spaced out among the top 30. Two were in the top 10, with Kenan Farmer (16:06.70) fourth and R.J. Torres (16:21.40) sixth.
However, it was Jimmie Stuckey and Connor Kilch who probably made the biggest difference. Both surged from the middle of the pack in final mile of the race, and Stuckey finished 13th (16:44.50), three spots ahead of Kilch (16:53.70). Daniel Yu rounded Walton’s top five at 27th (17:06.50).
Walton managed to win without defending individual champion Brian Sullivan, who is recovering from an injury.
“Our (No.) 3, 4 and 5 (runners) ran great in the second half of the race,” Walton coach Travis Gower said. “They past a lot of people in the last mile, and I think that was the difference.”
Trager Kviten was Marietta’s next finisher beyond its top three, placing 19th in 16:56.80, and the Blue Devils didn’t have anyone else close enough to topple Walton.
Harrison managed to take third without placing anyone in the top 10. Adam Watt led the tight Hoya pack at 11th (16:30.00). Spencer Borchelt was in the top 15 for Harrison at 15th (16:50.20).
The 3.1-mile race began with Pleak in the lead, and the first mile ended with Pleak, Fleming and Farmer running single-file a few steps apart. The second mile concluded with Pleak creating separation from the others, and Bagwell making his way to second in front of Fleming and Farmer
“I was surprised I led the whole thing,” Pleak said. “It wasn’t my plan to do that, but it was working.”
During the latter stages of the race, Fleming made his move to get in front of Bagwell and ended up second by just more than a second behind Pleak.