DENVER — All season long in 4A boys lacrosse, the Dawson School Mustangs and the Valor Christian Eagles appeared on a collision course for a state championship game rematch.
No one expected either team to need airbags, though, when the time came Friday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
After a tight first quarter reminiscent of the past couple meetings between the clubs — including last year's dramatic title game won by Valor in the final seconds — the powder blue-clad Eagles went on a mid-game tear that left the Mustangs grasping for answers in a 20-12 win.
Valor Christian scored nine straight goals at one point, a seemingly endless stretch for Dawson that included turnovers, a lull in transition play and few opportunities to get shots on goal itself.
"We just played tight, just really after the first quarter we played tight and we couldn't catch a throw," said junior Gavyn Pure, who scored three goals but saw his team go down by as much as 19-6 in the fourth quarter. "You have to give props to Valor for putting the pressure on us, but that's really what it came down to."
The Mustangs came in with a 17-1 mark and a playoff run in which they outscored opponents 50-11. They had defeated Valor in the regular season, again a close 11-10 cage match in the second game of the 2017 slate.
Valor was equally impressive entering the finale, having outscored foes 46-18.
The quality on both sides was there. But the game slipped from the grasp of the No. 1 seeded Mustangs with four Valor goals that sandwiched the halftime break.
Dawson gained a 2-0 lead by the 8 minute, 19 second mark of the first on goals from Pure and Asher Walker and made it 4-4 early in the second quarter when Mac Zee scored the first of his four goals.
For the next 13 minutes, it was as though Valor opened a wound for Dawson that they could not patch up. Valor's offense was able to cycle while at the same time sophomore Lance Tillman (four goals, four assists) got going. He scored twice, but it was two goals in the final minute of the second stanza and two more in the first minute of the third frame that signaled a dubious outcome for Dawson with Valor leading 12-4.
Those four goals came from four different players. Tillman, who as a freshman in 2016 scored the title game-winner against Dawson, led the team in scoring but Sean Traynor and Austin Saupe added three apiece for Valor (15-4).
Dawson went on a late run that Pure said was more in tune with what their team had accomplished all season long, but the Mustangs will still be scratching their heads at being out-scored 19-4 in a 36-minute span after taking the initial lead.
The Mustangs, led by Pure as one of the state's elite players, return much of their attack next year and will have even more fuel for 2018. In addition to Pure and Zee's scoring, Hunter Watts added three goals in Friday's defeat.
"We really were stagnant offensively, just not moving enough off-ball and making it too much 1-on-1, and it showed," Pure said. "We didn't hit the cage until the fourth quarter. We had six goals going up to the fourth quarter — this was the wrong place and the wrong atmosphere to be tight.
"I want a different outcome and we're going to work for it next year. I'm so proud of every one of the guys on this team."
Valor Christian 20, Dawson School 12
At Sports Authority FieldValor Christian (15-4)4673—20Dawson (17-2)3126—12
Goals — Valor Christian: Lance Tillman 4, Sean Traynor 3, Austin Saupe 3, Grayson Goodyear 2, Montana McLaughlin 2, Ben Seidlin 2, Eric Pacheco 2, Gianni Orlando 1, Cooper Rich 1; Dawson School: Maz Zee 4, Gavyn Pure 3, Hunter Watts 3, Asher Walker 1, Jack Shams 1.
Assists — Valor Christian: Tillman 4, Goodyear 2, Traynor 1, McLaughlin 1, Orlando 1; Dawson School: Zee 1, Hunter Brown 1, Watts 1.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Valor Christian: Jack Liselli (48-12-9); Dawson School: Dawson Santangelo (48-20-8).