The first 10 minutes of the Moffat County High School soccer game against Rifle wasn't an experience that Bulldog fans, players and especially the coach want to relive any time soon.
"Those were scary moments," coach Jeff Hammond said. "We survived, but it's something that I hope I don't have to sit through ever again."
Four starters missed practice Saturday and had to sit out for 10 minutes as a punishment.
The Bears controlled the game early by taking four shots on goal and keeping the ball on the Moffat side most of the time.
"(Rifle) came awful close to scoring, and that would have changed the game," Hammond said. "Fortunately we survived, and it might have worked to our advantage because when the starters came out it changed the game."
Four minutes after the disciplined starters re-entered, junior Pepe Loya-Mendoza redirected a free kick from Moffat County senior Hugo Quezada into the goal. Loya-Mendoza and Quezada would add one more goal each in the second half to lead the Bulldogs to a 3-0 win.
"Our defense really gelled today," junior goalie Malcolm Hillewaert said. "Guys were playing together, and it made it easier for me."
Both goalies had busy days, with Hillewaert making 15 saves and Rifle keeper Derek Roberts stopping 14 shots.
"Their keeper had two really solid saves when we had good looks," Rifle coach Tom Taucher said. "That made the difference because if those would have gone in, it would have been a different game."
The game was more closely contested than the final score. After the first 10 minutes of the game, play was back and forth. The difference was the Bulldogs were able to convert their opportunities.
"We've started to stop looking for the perfect shot," Hammond said. "I challenged them to vary their attacks by taking long shots some times and attack with the dribble next time. We were getting too predictable."
Quezada's goal appeared to take Roberts off guard. The goal was the second in as many games that was beyond 35 yards out for Quezada. His shot with three minutes to go in the game skipped underneath Roberts and put the game away.
Loya-Mendoza's second goal in the 48th minute was a beauty as well. He received a cross from the left side about 25 yards out, juked a defender and drilled a shot past Roberts.
The loss left Rifle, the defending league champs, 0-2-1 in the Western Slope League.
"We have the talent, but we just can't find chemistry right now," Taucher said. "This is a tough league to win on the road, and it's getting tougher."
Taucher also was impressed with his team's opponents.
"Moffat County might not know it yet, but they might be playing the best of any team in the league right now," he said. "They're a very creative, dynamic team."
The Bulldogs will test Taucher's theory Thursday when Battle Mountain comes to Craig. The Huskies defeated the Bears 2-1 on Saturday and then clobbered Steamboat Springs 6-0 on Tuesday.
"We are a bit banged up right now," Hammond said. "We need to be at the top of our game against the Huskies."
The Bears will see whether they can find chemistry against Eagle Valley Thursday.
The Bulldogs are 2-1 in league play. It is the first time in school history they have had a winning record after three games. Their kickoff against Battle Mountain is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 970-824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.