NORTHFIELD -- Running to exhaustion, Mahad Hassan gained a third-place finish in the 5,000-meter race at St. Olaf College.
It is the highest finish ever by a Willmar individual at state.
The Cardinal senior came within a few limp-legged strides of placing second.
He collapsed in the finishing chute, seconds after Lukas Gemar finished in first place. The Moorhead sophomore also stumbled and fell to the ground and had to be helped away.
The 3.1-mile stampede on the lower St. Olaf athletic fields includes two killer climbs near the end -- one long and one short. The pace was furious.
Gemar, only a sophomore, pulled away from Hassan with 800 meters left. The winning time of 15:23.1 was five seconds faster than the winning time a year ago, though still 13 seconds off the all-time record of 15:10.7 set in 2006.
Two years ago Hassan finished 14th at state when Willmar won its second straight state title. Hassan finished fourth last year in 15:51.
He was 19 seconds faster this time, posting a time of 15:32.
Twenty minutes after the race the Willmar senior was still dazed.
"I couldn't feel my legs (during the race)," he said with a blank stare.
As the only undergraduate in the top four last year, he enjoyed a No. 1 ranking much of the season.
He did lose twice to Zach Mellon of Buffalo. Those two were considered good bets to battle it out for first along with Robel Kebede of Minneapolis South.
But Mellon ended up in 19th place. He attributed his off day to a sideache that left him unable to catch his breath.
Kebede, who last fall finished fifth just behind Hassan, outkicked Hassan to the line for second place by a half second.
"Mahad ran a smart, tactical race," said coach Jerry Popp, "but hats off to the kid from Moorhead. You never know when it's going to be your day."
Gemar finished 57th as a freshman. He was ranked this year and had finished just two second behind Hassan at the Alexandria Invitational on Oct. 4.
"I heard (Hassan) breathing behind me when we had 800 meters to go," said Gemar. "But I never looked back; I just went. I didn't come this far to lose."
Gemar, who has relatives in the Spicer area, finished second to college runner Kyle Eckhoff of Willmar at the 12-mile Green Lake road race on July 4.
The Willmar team took 13th. Junior Sadam Abdi placed 30th. He will be expected to take over Hassan's leadership position next year on an otherwise young team.