It happened in the blink of an eye in the damp chill of Franklin Field, just before the crowd of 38,534 prepared to kick up the volume to 11 as it urged the four women still with a shot at winning the Penn Relays 4x1500-meter Championship of America relay to an epic finish.
At first glance, Georgetown's Andrea Keklak and Oregon's Annie Leblanc were setting the pace waiting to see who would make the first move. But Siofra Cleirigh Buttner, the gritty Villanova sophomore from Ireland, took the shot with 200 meters left - bolting to the outside, then to the front, and outrunning both women to the line to give the Wildcats the surprising victory.
Villanova's victory on Friday, the 128th in the history of the Wildcats' illustrious men's and women's programs at the Penn Relays, highlighted the action on day two of the 122nd annual carnival.
Oregon's women led with victories in the 4x100-meter and sprint medley relays. Penn State won the tightly contested men's distance medley relay and saw its 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 teams qualify for Saturday's finals. Florida (sprint medley) and Houston (shuttle hurdles) also won men's championship relays and Florida State took the women's shuttle hurdles.
Of all the results, however, Villanova's appeared to be the most unlikely. The Wildcats ran three freshmen - Bella Burda, Sammy Bockoven and Nicole Hutchinson - on the first three legs. Cleirigh Buttner, who was part of two winning teams last year as a freshman, took the final handoff 10 meters behind the top two, Georgetown and Oregon.
With one lap to go, only five meters separated the top three, plus fourth-place Indiana. The tension grew as everyone anticipated who would surge into first.
Suddenly, Cleirigh Buttner was gone.
"I didn't have a point in my mind," she said. "I felt like I didn't have to rush it. I felt good. When I made my move, it was a split-second and I was gone."
Of her teammates, she said, "They showed a lot of guts today. You can say we have no experience but they watched it every year, they watched the videos. They know what it's about. We put an emphasis on the [victory] wheels when they come and how many we have. So they stepped up and I'm very proud of them for that."
The time of 17 minutes, 44.29 seconds was the second-slowest in the 28-year history of the event. Oregon took second in 17:44.67, followed by Georgetown in 17:45.45.
The men's distance medley relay also featured a compelling finish. But in this case, Penn State senior Brannon Kidder took the baton for the 1,600-meter anchor leg in first and maintained the advantage throughout despite being chased by some of the best collegiate milers in the country.
The Nittany Lions were timed in 9:35.51. Georgetown was second in 9:36.32 while Penn, seeking its first DMR win since 1950, took third in 9:37.25.
"Actually I was on the last [DMR] team that won a wheel [in 2013] and I got a little spoiled," Kidder said. "I won one my freshman year and here we are three years later getting our second. It makes you realize how special it is to get a wheel."
Oregon's women posted a relay double in the 4x100 in 43.44 and in the sprint medley in 3:46.40. Hannah Cunliffe and Ariana Washington were members of both relay units.
Florida blew the men's sprint medley wide open on the first three legs and coasted home to victory in 3:16.87. Winners of the shuttle hurdles were Houston (56.78) on the men's side and Florida State (55.15) in the women's competition.
Redshirt junior Kellion Knibb of Florida State broke a 20-year-old Penn Relays record in the women's discus, winning with a throw of 192 feet, 1 inch, her second victory in three years in the event.
The top qualifiers in relay heats Friday were Houston (40.13) in the men's 4x100, South Carolina (1:24.56) in the men's 4x200, Florida (3:07.50) in the men's 4x400 and Tennessee (1:32.85) in the women's 4x200.