The Merced High boys soccer team was gasping in its last breaths.
A team predicted to be among the Central California Conference favorites heading into the season was minutes away from seeing its talented senior class members end their careers having never gotten a taste of the playoffs.
It would have been a tough end for a core group of players who had honed their skills together the last five-plus years.
But with their backs firmly planted against the wall and less than 10 minutes to go in their high school careers, that group responded.
Jovan Prado did a tight-wire act along the touchline and feathered a perfect cross to a crashing Carlos Manzo for the equalizer.
Four minutes later Meng Moua put the Bears up for good with a determined run through the heart of the Golden Valley defense.
Just like that, Merced was in the playoffs and the group hasn't skipped a beat since.
"It's what we'd been waiting for to happen all year," Merced coach Aaron Ruiz said. "Those guys make us go. We need them to rise to the occasion in big moments.
"When we've had success, that's what they do."
It's certainly been the case as Merced's made its run to today's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 semifinal at top-seeded Jesuit (25-1-1).
Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
The Bears' three-headed monster of Moua, Prado and William Gomez combined for a moment of magic to push Merced past Modesto in the first round.
A pair of one-time passes and a sliding finish by Moua provided the game's only goal in the blink of an eye.
"That was a pretty sweet moment," Gomez said. "I didn't even need to look. I knew Meng would be there.
"We've been through a lot together and know each other so well. We always felt like this was our year, but I think injuries held us back.
"We got healthy at the right time and now we're showing what we can do."
Merced certainly did that in its 5-1 thrashing of No. 4 Armijo in the quarterfinals.
The offensive outburst was all the more impressive with top goal scorer Prado relegated to the bench after receiving a red card.
Moua, Gomez, Manzo and Izy Lor rose to the occasion as the Bears scored early and often, including a Moua bicycle kick.
"I was worried not being able to be out there," Prado said. "The guys stepped up and got it done.
"Now we get a chance to see what we can do with Jesuit. We've wanted to play them since we were freshmen."
The Bears may need to be careful what they wish for.
Jesuit enters the contest ranked third in the nation according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
The Marauders have been to the Division 1 title game three straight years, winning two of them.
"They're big, they're strong and they're fast," Ruiz said. "They've earned the No. 1 seed. But everyone I've talked to says the same thing. As good as they are, they're beatable.
"Our goal right now is to have one more practice. We take care of business and we'll get it."