Battered and exhausted, the Cheyenne Mountain boys' lacrosse team sprinted across the field Wednesday to celebrate with its fans.
Mitch Paige took a pass from Kai Case and scored with 4:04 remaining to give the Indians an 11-10 come-from-behind win over rival Air Academy at the K-Dome. Paige scored all three of his goals in the second half, and Cheyenne Mountain (9-4, 3-1 4A Pikes Peak) overcame a pair of three-goal deficits to earn its sixth consecutive win.
"Oh my gosh, this feels awesome," Paige said. "We knew this was the game of the year, and it was a playoff game for us. We really wanted to show what we've got to Colorado Springs."
The victory on the Kadets' home turf was special for Indians co-captain Sam Sheridan, who scored a game-high four goals.
"This is unreal," Sheridan, one of 13 Cheyenne Mountain seniors, said while smiling through a bloody lip. "The magic that happened toward the end is a repeat of sophomore year. We kept our cool and were able to come back, and this is a huge momentum shift for us."
The Indians scored the game's first two goals before Air Academy (5-9, 2-2) reeled off three straight for a one-goal advantage after the first quarter. After Sheridan evened the score, the Kadets capitalized on a pair of Cheyenne Mountain penalties to score the next three and build a 6-3 lead.
But the Indians responded with three in a row in the physical game, capped by senior co-captain Casey Rothstein's goal with 54 seconds left in the opening half. The teams went to the break tied 6-6.
Air Academy scored the next three goals, but Cheyenne Mountain cut the lead to 9-8 thanks to a pair of Paige goals. The Kadets' Jake Thornally scored with two seconds left in the third, and Air Academy carried a 10-8 advantage into the final quarter.
Sheridan tied the score with 7:55 remaining. Cheyenne Mountain controlled possession for most of the remainder of the game, and Air Academy was unable to find the equalizer.
"We just had some opportunities and finished," said Indians' coach Mike Paige, whose team took over second place in the league standings behind Ponderosa.
"We had a lot of shots on goal in the first quarter, but didn't finish, so we said, 'Guys, we really need them in the back of the net.' For us, this is the biggest game of the entire season," the coach said.
For Air Academy, the result was just as bitter as the temperatures at the end of play.
"We thought this was a winnable game for us, but we gave up a couple leads and didn't take advantage of the opportunities in front of us," said Kadets' coach Ron Garcia. "They got some key possessions when they needed them, and we didn't capitalize on what we needed to."
Thornally led Air Academy with three goals, while Mitchell Miller and Austin Konnath added two apiece.