A race that was only 14 seconds off the course record earned Payson High School junior Joe Behrens the Sludge to the Judge boys championship trophy and congratulations from Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel.
Since the inception of the 10th annual race, which was named for its start line at the Northern Gila County Sanitary District, and finish at the Payson branch of the Gila County courthouse, McDaniel has served as head judge of the event.
In addition to offering his encouragement to all the runners, McDaniel donates the championship plaques that are awarded the winners.
Friday afternoon along Main Street, Behrens stole the spotlight covering the 2.3-mile course in 13:03. The record of 12:49 was set by Brian Benham of Cactus Shadows.
Last year, over the same course, Behrens was clocked in 14:04.
Almost as important as Behrens' gold-medal effort was the first through fourth place finishes turned in by the Longhorn team.
Coach Chuck Hardt has long preached the value of pack running in winning team titles.
With the East regional championships set for 1 p.m. today in Whiteriver, the Horns' top-four sweep of the Sludge run couldn't have come at a better time.
Trailing Behrens across the finish line were Longhorns Tanner Morgan (second; 13:10), Dustin Rodgers (third; 13:40) and Brian Langeliers (fourth; 13:53).
"The men's team is competing at a very high level," Hardt said. "Our first four can run with any four in the state. They are that good."
In the regional showdown and next week at state, the Horns will need at least five runners to turn in topnotch performances.
Payson's fifth runner could be Daniel Jacobs who has battled side pain most of the season.
At the Sludge to the Judge, he collapsed at the finish line where he stayed until coaches and onlookers hustled him to his feet.
"He's had a rough season, but still comes back because he understands how much he means to the team's success," Hardt said. "If you're looking for the definition of a competitor, it's Daniel."
If for some reason Jacobs can't run today, Hardt has others who could compete, including Tommy Ashby, Josh Sprinkle, Steve Colbertson, John Malloy, Paul Welch, Ryan Sundra and Kevin Murphy.
Their finishes at the Sludge were: Ashby (10th; 15:57), Sprinkle (11th; 16:08), Colbertson (12th; 16:20), Malloy (13th; 16:47), Welch (16th; 17:16), Sundra (20th; 17:58) and Murphy (24th; 19:43).