It was a special day Saturday for the Pekin boys cross country team.

Led by race champion Brody Blackwell, the Dragons won the Canton Invitational at Big Creek Park. 

It’s the first invitational team title for Pekin coach Cole Stoner, who is beginning his fourth year at the helm after the Dragons had four coaches in four years, and the first invitational individual championship for Blackwell.

“Our guys have had this meet circled on their calendars,” Stoner said. “It’s always our first invitational of the season. You train all summer and when you run the hills at Big Creek Park, you know it’s cross country season.”

Blackwell knows its cross country season.

The senior ran away from the field at Big Creek Park, winning in 16:52.6 after the race was delayed 45 minutes because of lightning. Runner-up Noah McIntyre from Athens was clocked in 17:02.6.

Blackwell’s four-year journey at the Canton Invitational has been a successful one.

As a freshman, he ran 20:56. He earned a medal as a sophomore thanks to a top-20 individual finish.

Last year he was second to Wyatt McIntyre of Athens, the eventual Class 1A state champion. 

Noah McIntyre -- who finished second to Blackwell this year -- is Wyatt McIntyre’s younger brother.

“It was great to see Brody win the invitational,” Stoner said. “He’s put in the work.”

Cross country is as much a team as an individual sport and the Pekin team was outstanding Saturday. The Dragons’ top seven finishers placed among the first 19 runners.

Pekin’s Seth Kasinger (17:45.3), Jonny Blanchard (17:46.6) and Bennett Custer (17:48.1) were fifth through seventh and Russell Sarff (17:57.6) was 14th. 

Combined with Blackwell, they compiled Pekin’s team score of 33.

Jayden Tabb (18th, 18:15.9) and Andrew Wolfe (19th, 18:19.8) completed the Dragons’ lineup.

“We had great senior leadership Saturday,” Stoner said. “Brody (Blackwell) said our team prayer before the meet as usual, then Bennett (Custer) talked to the guys about how important it was to start the season in the right direction and to run as a family.”

Elmwood-Brimfield (63), Deer Creek-Mackinaw (88), Athens (125), Limestone (134), Macomb (148), Quincy Notre Dame (196), Farmington (203), Cullom Tri-Point (225) and Canton (262) followed Pekin in the team standings.

Monmouth-Roseville, Peoria Manual and Bushnell-Prairie City did not have complete teams.

Steve Stein can be reached at stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.