LAFAYETTE — It wasn't a question of whether the Dawson School boys lacrosse team could beat the Valor Christian Eagles. Over the past three seasons, the Mustangs have proven they can with regular season victories each and every year.
The mental hurdle for the Mustangs, and the physical one, has come in the playoffs — two state championship banners hang in Valor's gym directly on account of it.
Many of those same bangers and mashers from Valor were looking to keep their streak alive and twist the knife a little on Friday night on Dawson's home turf in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
Senior Hunter Watts and his teammates would have none of it.
Still looking for their first title, the Mustangs won what head coach Peter Devlin said undoubtedly was the program's biggest game — to date, mind you — with a steady 12-9 victory over VCHS to finally exorcise that long-standing demon and put Dawson in the state semifinals on Wednesday.
A five-goal burst in the third quarter helped Dawson School (16-1) rally from a small deficit, and three Gavyn Pure goals all assisted by Watts in the fourth quarter held the Eagles (12-5) at bay to the finish.
"Historically, we've definitely been bucking heads together, so it was big for our coaches to get us drills in that helped prepare for their physical play and transition," said Watts, who scored twice and totaled six assists in the contest. "Most of all, I think we just didn't let anything get in our heads and we just kind of stuck to our game and not retaliate."
"I think we knew there would be nerves, knew that it was going to be a battle, but we've been a team that has had to grind out wins this season," said Devlin, whose team will host either Golden or Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. "We've been able to maintain our composure, and the message was, yes we have to bring the intensity to match theirs but we also have to just play like we've been playing all season."
Despite the early-in-the-bracket matchup between the teams that have made up each of the past two championship games, one could tell that this was no ordinary affair. A spirited crowd complemented the extremely physical nature of the game.
Valor goalie Jack Liselli was the biggest influence in the first half of play as he stopped several point-blank opportunities for his team, and with the Mustangs also struggling to figure out the zone defense, a few VCHS breakaway scores helped the Eagles to a 5-4 lead at the break.
When the sophomore keeper denied a Grey Tonelli shot early in the third as Tonelli stood three feet from him, it looked like Valor might be on its way to pulling the rug out from under Dawson's feet yet again.
But at that point, the Eagles defense started to get a little overzealous, and penalties played a factor for the next seven minutes as Dawson finally gained momentum.
From the 8:43 mark of the third to the 3:50 mark, the Mustangs got five goals from four different players — none of whom were named Pure (though he finished with five tallies). Junior Jackson Keener scored twice, Watts found the net once and Jack Shams nailed a long-range laser, giving Dawson a 9-6 lead.
After Valor had cut it back to 9-7 entering the fourth, Pure and Watts did find that special connection that Mustangs fans have come to know. Just eight seconds into the final frame, Pure connected on a man-up chance, and the two hooked up once again just a few seconds later to make it 11-7.
It was pure survival mode from there on out. The Mustangs had to kill a couple of tough penalties but Valor did not get closer than three goals.
"Valor is a top team, and it was a big win but we're definitely not done yet," Watts added. "We want that championship, and we're going to stick to practicing hard to go after that ring."
"One of the attributes that makes them good is the physicality of the team, and we knew we had to match that and not be pushed around," Devlin said. "On defense I really thought we matched up well. That's a very good team that brings it in the playoffs, and I'm just really happy that we were able to pull it out today."
Dawson School 12, Valor Christian 9
At Dawson SchoolValor Christian (12-5)3222—9
Dawson School (16-1)2253—12
Goals — Dawson School: Gavyn Pure 5, Hunter Watts 2, Jackson Keener 2, Jack Shams 2, Asher Walker 1.
Assists — Dawson School: Watts 6, Pure 3.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Dawson School: Dawson Santangelo (48-9-8).