Craig With only a handful of games left to play, the Moffat County High School soccer team knows the time is now if they are to make a push toward the playoffs.
The first task for the Bulldogs was a match against one of the teams ahead of Moffat in the playoff race.
The Bulldogs dispatched the Bears, 4-1, on Saturday, pulling within one game of the elusive final playoff spot.
"The team is really playing well together," coach Seth Young said. "We are motivated to reach the playoffs. That's our goal."
Freshman Tracy Mendoza put the Bulldogs on the board early, scoring 1 minute and 30 seconds into the match.
"I got the ball off the bounce," he said. "I turned around and blasted it in off my left foot."
Mendoza said the team is playing at a much higher level than last year's squad, evident in the Bulldogs three victories this year, compared to last year's two.
"We are way better than last year," he said. "We are shooting at the playoffs."
The Bears answered 12 minutes later, tying the contest at one.
"We are looking at the playoffs, too," Rifle coach Mark Knighton said. "We aren't looking past anybody."
Ian Forgay has the playoff fever as well.
Forgay broke the tie five minutes later, pulling off an acrobatic goal, enabling the Bulldogs to once again take the lead.
Forgay completed the most difficult kick in soccer - the bicycle kick - depositing the white leather sphere past a startled Rifle defense.
"I've been saying that I will get one sometime," Forgay said. "The ball was in the right place at the right time. It's more luck than anything."
Assistant coach Jeff Hammond had a different opinion.
"Luck is when hard work meets opportunity," he said. "These kids have been working hard all year long."
Rifle was short on luck Saturday.
With temperatures under 40 degrees and the rain a factor in footing, the Bears struggled to apply any offensive pressure.
"Both teams had the same conditions out there," Knighton said. "MoCo just outplayed us. They wanted it more than we did."
Clinging to a one-goal lead, the Bulldogs pulled away behind the play of junior Armando Lopez.
The elements never affected the Bulldogs' goal-scoring machine. Lopez took a corner kick for Moffat 25 minutes into the match. He bent the ball - untouched by the Rifle defense - around the right goal post of the Bears, putting the Bulldogs up two.
"I wanted to center the ball," Lopez said, "But it went in instead. I really wasn't trying to score then."
Up 3-1 at the half, Moffat County - except for Lopez - went on the defensive.
Lopez dribbled through a cold and tired Bears defense, depositing a blast off his right foot, giving him his 12th goal on the season and the Bulldogs the final margin of victory.
"I knew then that I could take them," Lopez said of the Rifle defense. "I knew I could score."
With the playoff mission now in full stride for Moffat County with three games remaining, coach Young expects his team to keep up the strong play.
"We can get at least two more victories yet," he said. "Our mission is the playoffs."
"We are playing with a lot more heart out there," he said. "They have it in their heads not to lose. If we keep winning, things will work out."