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Welcome to MLF! :)

First thing to try is loosening the gas cap and see if the engine stays running. There's a little vent in the cap that can get plugged up. Other then that sounds like some dirt might have got sucked out of the bottom of the tank into the carburetor when it went dry. You can try taking it apart and cleaning it or a replacement carburetor is around $40 through Sears.

Even though it ran like crap, did it run for longer then a minute when he had his hand over the air intake? If so it definitely sounds like a fuel starvation problem.
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