No. 2 Valor edges Evergreen in 4A Jeffco boys hoops thriller

Valor senior Jalen Sanders, left, drives on Evergreen senior Rhys Pennington Sayler on Friday. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

EVERGREEN — Dylan McCaffrey is known for his pin-point passing with a football, but he proved Friday night he can also shoot the 3-ball.

McCaffrey, one of the best prep quarterbacks ever to come out Colorado, buried a last-minute and eventual game-winning 3-pointer in the corner for Valor Christian’s boys basketball team at Evergreen.

“For some reason before the game I felt the need to shoot a bunch,” said McCaffrey, who had a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 13 points. “I guess fate kind of brought that there. It was really fun.”

The University of Michigan-bound quarterback’s 3-pointer gave the Eagles a 54-51 lead with under a minute to play. Valor (17-4, 11-1 in Class 4A Jeffco) held on for a 54-53 victory.

“You’ve got to love his moxie,” Valor coach Troy Pachner said. “That’s Dylan McCaffrey, he’s a big-time athlete who has been battle tested. I’ve got no problem with him taking shots.”

Evergreen's Bridger Tenney takes a jumper over Valor's Kayle Knuckles. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Senior Kayle Knuckles (17 points) and Jalen Sanders (15 points) were also key for the Eagles. Knuckles did most of his work in the paint, while Sanders scored 10 points in a span of 90 seconds in the fourth quarter that gave Valor a 6-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Still, the Cougars clawed back with 3-pointers from seniors Rhys Pennington Sayler and Michael Dillon to tied the game at 51-51 before McCaffrey’s late 3-pointer.

“I think Evergreen is one of the most under-rated teams,” McCaffrey said. “They are a legit state contender.”

Evergreen junior Bridger Tenney cut Valor’s lead to 54-53 with a bucket with 38 seconds left. An Eagles’ turnover gave Evergreen the ball back with 23 seconds left, but the Cougars weren’t able to score on their final possession.

Dillon got a good look from 3-point range, but the shot was just off the mark and the Cougars’ weren’t able to get a tip-in at the buzzer.

“It felt great. I thought it was going in,” Dillon said of his final shot during his 15-point performance that included a trio of 3-pointers. “It was just a little long.”

Valor's Karsten Michael, left, has the ball stripped by Evergreen's Chase Rogers. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Evergreen had a nice winning streak of seven games heading into Friday’s showdown. The Cougars’ last loss came at Valor on Jan. 18. Evergreen actually held a halftime lead against the Eagles in their first meeting. However, Sanders finished with a game-high 25 points as the Eagles rallied in the second half for a 65-51 win.

“It was a great high school basketball game,” Evergreen coach Scott Haebe said of the second loss against Valor. “You can’t ask for anything else. A packed house. I thought both teams played well. Both teams made plays. I was very proud of my kids.”

Wins over No. 3 D’Evelyn and No. 10 Golden got the Cougars (16-5, 9-3) right back into the conference championship race after a 2-2 start in league play.

Evergreen — just outside the top-10 in the rankings — closes out the regular season at Golden (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14) and home against Standley Lake (7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17).

“Valor is a great team. If we can play with them I think we have a great shot in the playoffs,” Dillon said. “We’ve got to finish strong next week. Hopefully get a first-round bye. Then get ready for playoffs to make a run.”

The Eagles, No. 2 in the latest 4A boys basketball poll and No. 1 in the RPI rankings, haven’t lost in early a month.

Pachner’s squad has been on a mission since that setback against the Jaguars. Besides the nail-bitter against Evergreen, Valor has dominated conference foes during the Eagles’ 9-game winning streak in league play.

While Valor hasn’t officially clinched a league title, the Eagles finish league play next week against Standley Lake and Littleton. The Gators and Lions sit in the bottom of the conference standings with a combined league record of 3-20.

“We have to get at least one more to clinch that,” Pachner said of the league title. “We respect the opportunity to play these last two (league) games. I don’t care what other teams’ records are. It’s been since 2011 since we’ve put a (league basketball) banner up. That was one of our goals this year.”

One win next week would give the Eagles their first boys basketball league title since the 2010-11 season when it claimed the 4A Jeffco title.

“It means so much. That has been our motivation,” Sanders said of winning a league title.

Evergreen senior Michael Dillon (34) takes a 3-pointer in front of the Cougars' student section. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)