The 2009 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular-season championship plaque, a stand-in for the one Fort Lewis College will receive in two weeks, sat shining and ready in a laptop bag, ready for a long-awaited postgame celebration.
But just 22 minutes in, it became apparent that despite playing last-place Colorado Christian, the No. 3 Skyhawks werent just going to waltz to a coronation.
Graham Delano took Luke Burgards long feed and beat a charging Ryan Wirth to give the upstart Cougars a 1-0 lead.
But Cory Dean answered in the 42nd minute to tie the game, and behind goals from Thomas Hoang, Jordan Alexander and a CCU own goal, the Skyhawks rallied for a 4-1 victory Friday at Dirks Field, locking up the RMAC title in the process.
FLC (15-1-0, 10-1-0 RMAC) dominated possession early, pinning the Cougars deep in their own end. But on one of CCUs rare runouts, the Cougars (0-14-1, 0-11-0 RMAC) finished for a shocking 1-0 lead.
I think it was just a defensive meltdown, you know? FLC head coach Oige Kennedy said. When youre attacking basically the whole half, its hard to switch on to defending. Credit to Christian.
FLC nearly went down 1-0 earlier in the match, but Wirths diving save against a rocket from Weston Leake kept the game scoreless.
The Skyhawks remained patient after conceding, continuing to work the advantage in possession before finally breaking through with an equalizer just before halftime. An FLC cross was cleared out of the penalty area right to Dean, who hit a rocket from the top of the box that rattled off the crossbar before skipping home.
The goal, Deans first of the season, came with a heavy heart. The senior, along with his brother Casey Dean, was playing just a day removed from the death of his grandfather, Perry Dean.
It was my first goal of the season, so it kind of meant a lot to me to get it (Friday), Cory Dean said. Beyond that, it just felt good to get our team back in it in the first half.
Hoang shrugged off a handful of near misses to put the Skyhawks ahead in the 69th minute. Alexander and Aaron Kloer worked a nice give-and-go before Kloer danced into the penalty area, eluding a pair of defenders on the way. Kloers touch found Hoang on the right side of the box, and the senior buried the feed in the lower left-hand corner of the net.
We found maybe being a bit more direct gave us a little bit more opportunity in front of goal, Kennedy said.
Alexander took a weird route to his team-leading eighth goal of the season. He tucked a shot into the far left corner of the net after what appeared to be a cross attempt from the deep right wing in the 79th minute, thrusting his hands in the air in a manner that suggested confusion.
Three minutes later, Hoang rattled a shot off the post, and in the ensuing scramble, a CCU defender knocked the ball into his own net for the final margin.
With the RMAC regular-season crown, FLC achieved the first in a line of goals the Skyhawks hope culminates with another national championship. It ensures the RMAC Tournament will return to Dirks Field for the first time in two years, and it goes a long way toward ensuring regional hosting duties. The way the tournament falls this year, if FLC hosts the region and continues winning, the Skyhawks would play at Dirks Field until the final four.
This is a fort here. ... In my four years, theres been very few games that weve lost (at home), and I hope we dont plan to lose any more, Dean said.