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On a day when the National Geography Bee required perfection to advance from preliminary rounds, Utah champion Bryan Stubbles was only near-perfect on Tuesday.

Stubbles, 14, who attends Central Davis Junior High in Layton, answered seven of nine questions correctly in his preliminary round - but that was only good enough to finish fifth among the 12 students in his preliminary group.The top two students from five different such groups advanced to the bee finals on Wednesday. In Stubbles' group, three students had perfect scores and required a tie-breaker question.

"It was tougher than I thought," Stubbles said. "I really thought I was going to win."

He had reason for that. In his school-level competition, he defeated last year's Utah champion - Matthew Newbold - who had finished fourth in the nation on the televised finals hosted by "Jeopardy!" star Alex Trebek. The national winner last year had finished fourth - like Newbold - the year before.

Stubbles easily handled questions such as what river flows through most of Mali (the Niger), what South American country produces most of the hemisphere's oranges (Brazil) and what country has been intentionally draining the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Iraq).

But he tripped up on naming the mountain range between France and the Iberian peninsula - the Pyrenees. "I knew it," he said. "I guess it was just nerves."

And he missed the name of the African region known for its volcanoes and narrow valleys - the Great Rift Valley. "I just didn't know it," he said.

Still, Stubbles can enjoy a few days more on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington that he won for winning the Utah bee.