In the end, this most frenetic of IC4A finishes came down to Orville Gayle's foot. The Maryland freshman fouled by a toe-length on his final try in the triple jump, enabling Mike Scudieri to win the event and the team title for George Mason.
Five years ago, when the Fairfax school hired John Cook as track coach, Scudieri and Skeeter Jackson were among the first athletes Cook and assistant Wade Privette recruited. Today, despite the high-powered athletes who have helped bring the Patriots to prominence, they were the heroes of the biggest athletic achievement in George Mason's history.
Jackson, who underwent knee surgery in February, leaped 25 feet 2 3/4 inches on his last attempt to win the long jump over East Carolina's Chris Brooks. Then Scudieri, who had not competed in three weeks because of a strained hamstring, came through. He climbed from fourth place to first on his next-to-last try in the triple jump, reaching 50-3 1/4.
On his sixth and final chance, Scudieri bettered that, with 50-4 3/4. But Gayle, in third place, had one more jump. As he prepared to take it, Cook, a onetime Maryland distance runner, said, "I'm sure not rooting for my alma mater on this one."
Gayle made a strong bid, landing in the range of 51-8, but his toe was just over the takeoff marker. That gave George Mason the team title, 54 points to runner-up Maryland's 50. Had Gayle won, the Terrapins would have taken the title, 54-52.
Villanova, hurt by NCAA champion Carlton Young's sixth-place finish in the 400 meters, was third with 49 points, followed by defending champion Princeton with 45, Fairleigh Dickinson with 42 and Boston University with 41.
"Winning the IC4A has been our goal since we first joined five years ago, when we were basically working out of a trailer in the backyard," Cook said. "You could call it our kind of Mao Tse-tung five-year plan."
George Mason won despite leaving sure winner decathlete Rob Muzzio at home to prepare for NCAA competition May 30-31.
"We knew he would have been a sure 10 points and we had to make it up," Scudieri said. "I think it took more guts not to bring him. Today we showed everybody how much we've progressed in four years. We went from basically nothing, from guys who used to come to this meet to watch, hoping just to qualify."
They also overcame their share of the adversity that befell all the contenders this rainy weekend. Before the triple jump, the Patriots seemed likely to wrap up team honors in the 4x400 relay, the last running event.
But they were assigned the outside lane and their second runner, Reggie Henderson, crashed into the trackside fence after taking the baton pass from Ron George. The Patriots wound up last, with Villanova earning 10 first-place points.
"I usually get the baton in the middle of the track and I knew I had to compensate this time, but when I got it, I started at full speed and hit the fence," Henderson said. "I feel I let the guys down, but to win this meet gives me a serious uplift. This is a team and you don't just worry about Reggie Henderson and John Parker.
"We're all aware of the other guys and we try to pat each other on the back . . . I see all of us as being superstars."
Scudieri became the superstar for this day, because Maryland had moved into contention by winning 19 in the weight events, on Mike Pascuzzo's unexpected tie for second in the high jump and William Butler's runner-up pole vault at 16-1. Al Baginski, sixth in the shot put earlier, won the discus at 189-9 and Greg Rowe, third in the shot, came back to take fifth in the discus.
Aside from the horizontal jumps, George Mason's only other victory was the 4x100-meter relay. The foursome of Robert Brown, Parker, Frank Raines and Henderson won easily in 40.60 seconds, as Parker ran a magnificent second leg.
"It was important for the relay team to start it off, which they did," said Ralph White, the assistant in charge of the sprinters. "There were some guys hurting out there, but they all gave what they had to give."
Henderson, troubled by tendon problems in his right leg this outdoor season, came back to run the 400 meters in 46.86, for second place behind Manhattan's Willie McLaughlin.
Parker also collected 10 points in the sprints, but in each case he was edged out of a higher finish. He was fourth in the 100, one-hundredth of a second out of third place, and third in the 200, yielding second by three-hundredths.
A most unexpected six-point contributor was sophomore pole vaulter Jim Shotwell, who cleared 15-5 to take third place. Shotwell had an extra burden to carry because Mason's top vaulter, Mark Spenik, went out at the opening height of 15-1 1/4.
Rain began to fall today at 10 a.m., at the start of the rescheduled high jump, in which Connecticut's James Hopson cleared 7-1 on his third try to win. Navy's Leo Williams, bidding for a third straight title, passed at that height and failed at 7-2 1/4, so he tied with Pascuzzo for second. Nick Saunders of Boston U., the indoor winner at 7-6 1/2, had three misses at 6-10 1/4.
Navy's Perry Puccetti retained his javelin title with a throw of 254-3, Georgetown's Kevin King was second in the 1,500 meters, losing to the late sprint of Harvard's Adam Dixon, and finished fourth in the 5,000. The Hoyas' Brian McNelis was fourth in the 800.