As the rain began to fall Thursday evening in Carrollton, Cass senior Stephen Smith had one final chance to extend his high school career.
The reigning Class 5A state champion in the pole vault needed to clear 15 feet in order to match what Carrollton's Grant Briscoe had already accomplished. Briscoe, a sophomore, had needed just one attempt to advance past the height, but Smith had failed on his first two tries.
With his opportunity to defend his title on the line, Smith successfully got over the bar. He was then presented with a choice: concede the championship due to needing more attempts at 15 feet or come back Friday to continue.
For Smith, it wasn't a difficult decision. He was going to do everything he could to win a state title in his final season.
"I said, 'I have to take it now,' because I knew the rain would not let up," Smith said of his final try on Thursday. "I took it, cleared it, and then they had to close it for the rain.
"They asked me if I wanted to concede to give Grant first place and I would take second place, or if I would like to come back Friday and start with a height of 15-6 and pick up where we left off. I would rather pick up where we left off than give him the win."
The decision paid off, as Smith needed just one attempt to clear 15 feet, 6 inches, while Briscoe needed two. Neither could successfully get over the 16-foot mark to hand Smith a second state title.
"It was a good way for me to end my high school career," Smith said.
To have to start the day at a height of 15 feet, 6 inches made for a difficult proposition, and Smith also had to go first. Usually it's preferable to go second in such competitions to know what needs to be done, but Smith took advantage of his chance to set the tone.
"I was able to go first, clear it first attempt and put the pressure on him," he said.
Not only did Smith have to clear 15 1/2 feet without the benefit of incrementally increasing the height but also it represented a personal-best. Doing so elicited a huge celebration from Smith.
"It was honestly amazing," he said.
Having gone through last year's state finals, during which he topped out at 14 feet to win in a jumpoff, Smith felt like the experience helped him against a less seasoned opponent. Briscoe, though, had beaten Smith at both the Region 7-AAAAA and sectional meets prior to state.
Even still, Smith noticed a difference in Briscoe's demeanor on his final try at 16 feet compared to his own do-or-die moment at 15 feet the day prior.
"I feel like it kind of got in his head a little bit more than it did me," he said.
Briscoe will have his chances to win a state title down the road, but Friday proved to be the perfect sendoff for Smith, who signed last month to pole vault for Kennesaw State's track and field team.
"It's super great," Smith said of capping his Cass career with a second state title. "Even if I hadn't gotten first [Friday], I would have been happy with my high school career, because not a lot of people are even a one-time state champion. I would have still held my head high if I had gotten second.
"To get first, like last year, I still can't believe it. It hasn't set in yet."