AUGUSTA — The coach-athlete relationship sometimes is a lot like the parent-teenager dynamic.

No, you can’t borrow the car. No, you can’t have a late curfew. No, you can’t run the KVAC cross country championship race and risk aggravating your ailing knee.

Lewiston coach T.J. Niles wasn’t so much showing Mohamed Mohamed tough love with the latter admonishment as keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

Whole and healthy, the Blue Devils are probably the top team in the state and one of the top five in New England. Without Mohamed — who begged and bargained and pleaded but was sidelined Saturday at Cony High School — they knew winning the conference title would be a chore.

After another mid-race injury to Jeremy Cairns, Lewiston didn’t really get close. Without an individual runner in the top five, steady Bangor (72 points) breezed past Lewiston (86) for the title.

“As a precaution, he thought he’d be able to run today and be fine, but I wasn’t about to risk it,” Niles said. “I didn’t want to screw us up for the end of the season.”

The regional, state and New England meets occupy the next three weekends, and yes, Lewiston has reason to believe it will be back at full strength to challenge in all of them.

Mohamed’s malady is iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, a repetitive use injury that is fairly common in runners.

“He’s had it before, and we’ve managed it and got it to go away. I lightened his load a little bit this week,” Niles said. “I probably could have had MoMo jog and ensure that we would have won or whatever, but hammering up and down hills can irritate it.”

Hills characterize the Cony course, with an upgraded stretch of some 800 meters in the second mile, then another ascent to the finish line.

That didn’t stop Mohamed from campaigning when he arrived at school. And on the 45-minute bus ride. And after the team unloaded its equipment and began to stretch.

“It was, ‘I really feel fine’ and ‘it doesn’t bug me’ and yeah, yeah, yeah,” Niles said. “He was trying to argue more when we got here and I was like, ‘Dude, I already scratched you.’ It was the first thing I did.”

Minus the middle man in its traditional pack, Lewiston fought valiantly, with four runners in the top 10.

Mohamed Awil was fifth in 17:28.3, just under 23 seconds behind winner Josh Horne of Mt. Blue. Isaiah Harris (17:37.2, seventh), Farhan Abdillahi (17:43.0, ninth) and Osman Mohamed (17:54.7, 10th) followed.

“I feel like it’s good to lose, because it gives us more motivation to do the workouts right heading into regionals, and that’s what matters,” said Awil, whose time topped his previous best on the Cony layout by nearly five seconds.

Even without one of its leaders, Lewiston did the math and figured it would have a chance to win if the second group of runners performed up to its usual standard.

Those hopes unraveled when Cairns twisted his ankle. Cairns limped home to 61th out of 86 runners, making Dominique Sepulveda the Devils’ fifth scorer in 55th. When healthy, Cairns’ customary times would place him in the top half of the field.

“You just want to have everybody healthy at states,” Niles said. “We train through this week every year. We don’t start tapering until next week. That’s why we always seem to have a mixed bag at this meet.”

Lewiston was the defending champion. Two years ago, it was a pre-race favorite but stumbled to third when a Devils runner took ill during the race.

None of the Devils’ difficulties had an impact on the overall winner. Horne broke away from the mass start and led from wire-to-wire.

Teammate Aaron Willingham and Sam Wood of Mt. Ararat pushed Horne until the vaunted hill, where the senior continued his unyielding pace.

“The first couple of miles are really tough. Belfast is so much flatter in comparison,” Horne said of the course that hosts both the Festival of Champions and Eastern regionals. “I definitely could have gotten a better time, but I can’t complain with first.”

Awil and Harris kept pace with Horne and Willingham until the steep climb.

“You start that hill and it goes all the way up until you get to the third mile. Me and Isaiah ran together and we ran the first mile in 5:15. Then we got to the hill and everybody died,” Awil said.

Caleb Lord of Hampden passed Willingham in the final 50 yards to take second, but Dan Lesko’s uncontested fourth-place run gave the Cougars three of the top four spots.

Mt. Blue (95) used that strength at the top to edge Brewer (98) for third.

“Lesko (in fourth) was huge for us. This was a breakout race for him. I was surprised. We all were,” Horne said. “Practices he’s right there with us, but races he’s been behind the Lewiston pack. Today he showed us what he had. And Aaron is having some problems with his legs right now or he would have been right there with me at the end.”

Jonathan Stanhope (sixth, 17:31.3) and Ben Salinas (eighth, 17:42.4) led Bangor to victory. Colin Glencross (15th), Caleb Halvorson-Fried (16th) and Nate Caruso (27th) also logged points for the Rams.

With three runners in the top nine, headed by fourth-place Elizabeth Labun, Hampden (52) defeated Brunswick (65) for the Class A girls’ title. Brunswick’s Teresa Murphy won the race in 20:40.4.

Farhiyo Aden (21:21.7) finished fifth, staking Lewiston to third place overall.

“My girls were seeded third, and I was hoping to get closer on that end, but I had two or three that didn’t run so hot today,” Niles said. “What happened was they didn’t get out and they all got boxed in, so the (first) mile was slow for all of them.”

Maranacook swept the Class B titles. Leavitt’s girls tied for fourth.

Abby Hersom of Oceanside and Ben Trapani of Camden Hills were the Class B individual winners. Leavitt’s top boys’ runner was Harrison Knowlton in fifth. Julia Labbe was eighth for the Hornets among the girls.

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