DES MOINES — As Darien Porter crossed the finish line, his knees buckled, his hands covered his eyes and tears poured out.

The magnitude of the moment hit the Bettendorf sophomore immediately.

Porter darted out of the blocks and staved off Waukee’s Josh Andrews and Pleasant Valley’s Keshaun Baker to claim the Class 4A 400-meter state title Thursday afternoon at Drake Stadium.

“I never thought I’d be crowned a state champion this year,” Porter said.

Porter, hindered by a leg injury last season, was 11th in the quarter-mile as a freshman in 50.46 seconds.

This year, healthy, stronger and motivated, Porter has gone to new heights. He broke a 42-year-old school record in the state-qualifying meet and equaled that time of 48.24 at state.

“I’ve really grown as a runner and gotten a lot stronger,” Porter said. “With my maturity, I’ve learned to run the race better.

“I was very unsatisfied with my performance last year. Yes, I was hurt, but I knew I could do better. It gave me a lot of motivation coming into this year.”

Baker and Porter grew up teammates in the Mississippi Valley Track Club.

Up until this year, Baker always had the edge.

“I was basically his rabbit and he was trying to train off me,” Baker said. “He has come out of nowhere, but I can’t be mad or upset with him. Now I know that Darien is one of those top, elite athletes.”

Porter is the Bulldogs’ first 400 champion in school history.

Coming in with the top qualifying time, Porter surged into the lead on the backstretch and held off his competitors in the final 100 meters.

“I had to set the tone right from the beginning and get out fast,” Porter said.

Porter will run a leg on Bettendorf’s 800 and 1,600 relays Friday along with anchoring the sprint medley relay Saturday.

He admitted Thursday’s championship raises his confidence but it won’t change his persona.

“I love track and it makes me feel good about the way I’ve been running and training, but I don’t see myself becoming arrogant,” he said. “I’m down to earth, and I’ll keep that personality.”

Baker was fourth last year in the 400. He has one more chance to claim that coveted title next season.

“I’m always going to be hungry to get that title,” said Baker, who finished in 48.91 seconds. “I’m not going to give up. I still have another year. If I continue to improve and focus more on the 400, it will be a different story next year.”

Porter was one of three medalists for Bettendorf on the opening day.

Suni Lane tied for fourth in the high jump and Cole Webster placed fifth in the discus. The Bulldogs compiled 18 points and are in third place behind co-leaders West Des Moines Valley and Waukee with 27.

After clearing 6-7 a year ago in winning the title, Lane leaped just 6-2. Ames’ Chuol Chuol won with a jump of 6-5.

“I just didn’t have my ‘A’ game today,” Lane said. “They were better than me.”

Lane cleared 5-10, 6-0 and 6-2 on his first attempt but never could get over the bar at 6-4.

“I was snapping down too fast and my butt kept hitting the bar,” he said.

Lane, who will run the 400 hurdles today, admitted there was more pressure this season.

“Last year, nobody really knew of me,” he said, "but I’m still pleased to compete with these great athletes and do what I did."

Webster threw 161-8 for his second consecutive state medal in the discus. Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Jackson Coker defended his title with a heave of 174-5.

The Northern Illinois football recruit, seeded third and last year’s runner-up, fouled on three of his six throws.

“Obviously, I had higher expectations,” Webster said. “It only takes one throw, and I didn’t come through today.

“I still had a good season. I still got a PR from last year so I’m not too disappointed.”

In addition to Baker, PV earned team points in the 3,200 relay and 3,200.

The Spartans’ quartet of Anthony Pena, Parker Huhn, Mark Conway and Ben Gorman was sixth in 7:58.15, just less than nine seconds behind winner Waukee.

PV’s Konnor Sommer was seventh in the 3,200 at 9:30.16. The Spartans finished the opening session with 11 points and are in seventh place.

Davenport North’s Ezekiel Hayslett and Collin Glazek qualified for Saturday’s final in the 200. Davenport Central’s Kevin Kurth earned a spot in the 100 final with his time of 10.96.

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Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.