DENVER — Lance Tillman held his stick up and swiped a championship.
The Valor Christian freshman pulled off a key steal late in the Class 4A boys lacrosse title game, and turned it into what proved to be the winning goal moments later. It gave the Eagles a 10-9 win over Dawson, and secured the program's first-ever state championship.
With just under two-and-a-half minutes to play in a tied game, Dawson goalie Chad Dunnell made a save and looked to start the Mustangs' offense with an outlet pass. But Tillman hung around for a moment and put his stick up with one hand to try and deflect the pass. Instead, he caught it, and found the net with a quick flick of the wrist.
"You don't usually do that, but I just decided to," Tillman said afterward. "I got lucky, honestly."
The Eagles held off a man-down situation in the final minute, and secured the 10-9 win.
"It's been a crazy year," said Valor Christian coach John Grant Jr.
The season started with high expectations — and why not? The Eagles had been runner-up a season ago, returned a lot of experience, and so they opened as the No. 2 team in the CHSAANow.com preseason poll.
Valor also beat a 5A team in a scrimmage, so just prior to the season, "We were thinking, 'Sky's the limit,'" Grant said. "We thought we were headed somewhere."
But Valor began the season 0-3, and soon dropped out of the rankings.
"We weren't really clicking as a team," Tillman said.
The team went on a retreat to try and improve chemistry.
"We were searching for a new identity," Grand said. "I was questioning my coaching ability. There was so much going on.
"We went on a retreat and we went and try to figure some stuff out, and try to meld everyone together and the personalities and egos," the coach added. "Guys were worried about getting committed. I ripped last year's silver medal poster down, I took last year's jersey down. I said, 'No more looking in the past, no more looking forward. We're going to focus on this year.' Slowly, we started getting momentum."
Valor went 11-1 to close the regular season, losing only to Dawson in April. But more adversity struck: Two weeks ago, goalie Logan Lee had his appendix burst.
"We never thought he was going to get back in," Grant said. "He got cleared on Tuesday, played a little bit on Wednesday night (in the semifinals) — got three saves to even get us to this game — and then literally holds off the highest-scoring offense in 4A by a long shot."
Lee made a number of crucial saves in Friday's win, including in the final minutes with his team clinging to a one-goal lead.
The game was close throughout, with 19 ties or lead changes between the two teams. Neither team was able to build a two-goal margin.
Dawson's Gavyn Pure had an outstanding night with five goals, while Tillman led Valor Christian with three — including two in the fourth quarter.