It all came down to eight guys, 1600 meters and a baton.
As the Princeton and Penn men's mile relay teams stepped to the starting line, each knew that in approximately three minutes, the favorite for the Ivy League title would emerge.
It was to be the Tigers' day. A clutch victory by the 1600-meter relay team propelled Princeton to a 86-78 victory over Penn Saturday. The task was all the more difficult for the men's relay team, as two of its regular four runners were watching from the infield of William Weaver Stadium.
One member of that resting tandem, junior Royce Reed, had just competed in the javelin competition and won the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. The other, junior Charlie Phelps, was resting so he could be at full strength for the future events.
"Penn thought they had the meet won when they stepped to the starting line," head coach Fred Samara said.
The two replacement runners, seniors Pete Kimball and Neil Jasey, knew that they had to be in top form to give the Tigers (1-0) a chance of winning the meet.
And perform they did.
After the first three runners, it was almost miraculous that the Tigers were pacing the Quakers.
"I knew the meet was close," said sophomore anchor John Mack. "We needed those points."
Mack took the baton and sprinted towards the finish, neck-and-neck with Penn's Robin Martin, who had earlier qualified for the NCAA championships in the 800 meters.
"I just wanted to stay with him," Mack said. "And then I turned it on at the end."
Mack took control down the final 100 meters and crossed the tape first, giving Princeton the victory in three minutes, 12.23 seconds, .4 seconds faster than the confident Quakers.
"Mack was the outstanding performer of the meet," Samara said. "He was extremely fast for us all day."
Mack's late charge, coupled with his victories in the 400 and 200 meters, tipped the scales in favor of the Tigers.
The race was the pinnacle to what Samara called, "The best dual meet I've ever been associated with at Princeton."
Numerous other individuals also played crucial roles in the victory.
Senior Mo Warren won the long jump with a distance of 7.34 meters. It was Warren's personal best, and he outdistanced the second-place finisher, junior Jason Melton, by .22 meters.
In the pole vault competition, junior Matt Butler soared to victory with a jump of five meters. He was followed by junior Dan Shimooka, who jumped 4.85 meters.
In his first meet of the season after returning from injuries, junior Rob Manning competed in the javelin, winning with a throw of 64.84 meters.
"Manning's still two to three weekends away from hitting it big," Samara said. "It was only his first meet back."
Next weekend, the team will be split. Fourteen of Princeton's finest will travel to the University of Florida in Gainsville to compete against some of the country's most talented track and field athletes.
The rest of the squad will head to Rider to compete in the New Jersey College Championships.
"We still aren't hitting on all cylinders yet," Samara said. "We will be in good shape once we get the injuries taken care of."