Nine seconds left.

Tied score.

Championship game.

Lenape football coach Tim McAneney didn't want to talk to junior kicker Steve Mulville, who was about to attempt a 33-yard field goal that would lift the Indians to the first South Jersey title in the history of the program.

He didn't want anybody to talk to Mulville.

Except Coach Lil.

"I look over and I'm like, 'Holy cow,' " McAneney said, channeling his famous father and telling another of 20 or so touching stories about Mark Lilley, his beloved long-time assistant coach who died Tuesday of complications from a lengthy fight with colon cancer.

It was Dec. 2 at Rowan University. It was a cold, damp night. Lenape was tied with Rancocas Valley, 7-7, in an epic battle in the South Jersey Group 5 championship game.

And Mulville, a former offensive lineman who was a kicker only because of Lilley's persistence, was getting ready to attempt the most important field goal in the school's history.

"Who else would you want to talk to a kid in that situation?" McAneney said. "I can just see him, giving him the double-hand wave, saying, 'Stephen, come over here.' "

Mark Lilley, then a Lenape assistant football coach, with some of his players in 2017.
LILLEY FAMILY
Mark Lilley, then a Lenape assistant football coach, with some of his players in 2017.

It's impossible to overstate Lilley's impact on the South Jersey football scene. As a player, he was an All-South Jersey guard – one of those old-school guys who used to wear that big horse-collar around the back of his neck – for the undefeated 1984 Pennsauken team that featured future NFL players Greg Mark and David Griggs as well as Jason Hicks.

That team, coached by Tim McAneney's father, the legendary Vince McAneney, might have been the best in South Jersey history.

"Talk about instant credibility," Tim McAneney said of his arrival at Lenape before the 2011 season. "These kids wanted so bad to be winners, and I'm bringing in this guy who played for the best team ever. Ever."

Lilley was a great player who became a better coach. He was an assistant at Camden Catholic, Pennsauken, Bishop Eustace, Holy Cross and Lenape over a career that spanned nearly 30 years and impacted hundreds of athletes.

"He was like a brother to me," said current Camden head coach Dwayne Savage, who was an assistant with Lilley on Tom Coen's staff at Pennsauken in the late 1990s and also taught with Lilley in the Pennsauken school district. "The kids loved him. I went to see him a couple weekends ago in the hospital and then I ran into a player we both coached 20 years ago and I told him, and the guy rushed right up to the hospital to see him.

"That tells you everything you need to know about Lil. That's the impact he had on these guys."

This is Lenape football coach Tim McAneney as the game-winning field goal sailed through the air at the South Jersey Group 5 title game in December.
Elizabeth Robertson/Staff photographer
This is Lenape football coach Tim McAneney as the game-winning field goal sailed through the air at the South Jersey Group 5 title game in December.

Lilley was an assistant under Tim McAneney at Bishop Eustace, Holy Cross and Lenape. He was a calming influence on the high-strung head coach, the rugged guy who never got rattled, the optimist who saw the bright side of every situation.

"He was so patient with me," McAneney said, his voice catching with emotion. "I would bitch about everything. If it was raining, I would bitch. If it was too hot, I would bitch. If we were a minute late, I would bitch. If we were a minute early, I would bitch.

"He would talk me off the ledge. If it was raining, he would be, 'Good to get in the gym for a day, change it up.' If we were late, he would be, 'Good it worked out this way; we won't have too much time to think about it.'"

Lenape's players loved Lilley. They took turns doing yard work and other chores during his illness. The coach's presence at practice, especially as he battled the debilitating effects of his treatment during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, served as an inspiration for athletes such as Zach Cole, Mike Galaida, Aaron Acosta, JoJo Kellum, Jake Topolski and many others.

"Lil would come late to practice, and Zach Cole would leave the drill and run across the field to get his chair," McAneney said. "I would be like, 'Zach, what are you doing?' He would tell me, 'Coach, I got to get Lil's chair.'

"He was the most unselfish coach I've ever been around. All he cared about was the kids."

McAneney, who resigned as Lenape's coach after the 2017 season, is convinced the Indians' success in his final two seasons – when they went a combined 22-2, with two appearances in the sectional finals, and captured the program's first crown – helped Lilley through the most difficult days of his disease.

"There's not a doubt in my mind the '17 team kept him alive," McAneney said. "And his family, of course."

Lilley was 51. He is survived by his wife, Kerri, and children Ryan, Sami and Jack — and by the entire South Jersey football community, especially the players fortunate enough to have felt one of his big arms on their shoulders.

That was Mulville on the night of Dec. 2. A couple of years earlier, he was an average offensive lineman in a program with little playing time available for average offensive linemen.

Lilley persuaded him to try kicking.

"I would be like, 'Lil, I don't have time for this,' " McAneney recalled of Mulville's early attempts at Lenape practices. "He would like, 'Aw, let him kick a couple.' "

Now it was the biggest moment in Lenape football history. And Lilley had both of his hands on Mulville's shoulder pads.

"I asked him later, 'Lil, what'd you say?' " McAneney recalled. "He said, 'No big deal. Just relax. Just another kick.' "

It was, in essence, Mark Lilley's last official act as a football coach, sending a converted lineman on the damp, cold turf to kick the game-winning field goal in the South Jersey championship game.

Mulville's kick won't soon be forgotten.

The coach who sent him out there never should be.

Lenape players lifted kicker Stephen Mulville after his field goal with 0:05 on the clock gave the Indians a 10-7 victory in the South Jersey Group 5 title game Dec. 2, 2017 at Rowan.
Elizabeth Robertson/Staff photographer
Lenape players lifted kicker Stephen Mulville after his field goal with 0:05 on the clock gave the Indians a 10-7 victory in the South Jersey Group 5 title game Dec. 2, 2017 at Rowan.