Burcham loses final race
CHARLESTON -- Going down the backstretch, athletes and coaches under the numerous tents in the stands stood to applaud Cabell Midland's Jacob Burcham for his career achievements. Coming down the homestretch, fans on the press box side at Laidley Field rose and showed their support for the senior competing in the West Virginia High School Track Championships for the final time.
They believed he'd pull away from Knights teammate Brian Lawhon and Point Pleasant's Caleb Riffle in the Class AAA 800-meter run Saturday and win the final race of his career and record a distance sweep for a third straight year.
Moments later, a hush fell over the Laidley Field track. Those fans saw Riffle generate an amazing kick and charge past Lawhon and Burcham to secure the biggest victory in his career. Riffle clocked in at 1:54.98 -- a personal best by four seconds -- to 1:55.31 for Lawhon and 1:55.46 for a stunned Burcham.
"I was all fired up for this," Riffle told the many media members who gathered around him after the upset. "I had a good feeling going in. I knew I could outkick him."
A year ago, Riffle finished third in the Class AA 800 finals (2:03.71). In the fall, Point Pleasant moved up to Class AAA and Riffle knew it could come down to him and University of Oklahoma-bound Burcham at the state meet. It was a case of bring it on.
"I was motivated," Riffle said. "My legs were about gone. I had a little left to give and it was worth it. He's been great for West Virginia. It was an honor to race with him. I'd never beaten him. Now was the time to do it. We were told we couldn't do anything (after moving up in classification). That made us work that much harder."
Burcham, the state record holder in the 800, 1600 and 3200 along with being a part of the record-setting 4x800 relay team Friday night, Lawhon and Riffle stayed close throughout the race. As the trio headed for home, it was Riffle who put on a Burcham-like kick to reach the finish line first.
"It feels good to finally do it," said Riffle, who came in fourth in the regional at Hurricane (1:58.91) and got into the state as an at-large entry. "Everyone in the state's shocked."
Riffle's going to West Virginia Wesleyan for cross country and basketball. Riffle's dad, Kelly, a former track standout at Point Pleasant and Marshall University during its Southern Conference days, was in the stands to savor the moment.
Until this season, Burcham had not lost a race in West Virginia since the state meet his freshman year. He ended up with two in-state 800 setbacks in 2013. The first came in the Carlos Akers/Doc Hale Memorial Invitational on March 28 at Cabell Midland where Buffalo's Dylan Rich beat him with a meet-record time.
"It's frustrating," Burcham said. "I had a good career. This is not the way I wanted to end it. I wanted to go out with a win."
In the team standings, Jefferson (121 points) won Class AAA boys for a fourth straight year and the Cabell Midland Knights placed second (78).
Earlier in the day, Burcham won the 1600 (4:13.33) and teammate Nate Moore won the 110 hurdles (14.65). Niles Dailey placed fifth. In the 300 hurdles, the two Knights placed as well.
Burcham said he didn't overlook Riffle or anyone else in the field.
"I knew about him," Burcham said. "He wouldn't go away."
Like Burcham, Cabell Midland coach Chris Parsons was disappointed by the 800 outcome. Still, Parsons knows what Burcham has meant to distance running in the Mountain State.
"Jacob tends to bring out the best in people," Parsons said. "He had a hard weekend. He looked good Friday and OK in the mile.
"In the 800, he didn't have that zip in his legs."