ATWATER — With 15 league games it's tough to put too much emphasis on any one game in the opening round of Central California Conference play.
Still, with all six teams looking competitive, an 0-3 start appears like a tough hole to climb out of. Not wanting to fall into such a hole gave the Atwater and Merced soccer teams a little added incentive heading into Monday afternoon's tilt at Falcon Field.
The Falcons' Jonathan Trillo answered the call, scoring a goal in each half and Atwater fought off a final 10-minute flurry from the Bears for a 2-1 victory.
"I felt like we did a good job defensively of keeping bodies behind the ball," Atwater coach Jimmy Brewer said. "It's well known that Meng (Moua) is the focal point of their attack and I felt like we did a good job of making him receive the ball with his back to the goal and then standing him up after that.
"Unfortunately, we lost some guys on some horizontal runs in the last 10 minutes. We did just enough to hold on."
The afternoon played out much the same way the Bears' (11-4, 0-3 CCC) first two league contests finished.
Bart McAfee's squad led the way in shots and time of possession, but could produce little in the way of finishing.
A stout Atwater defensive performance deserved most of the credit for that. The Falcons (7-7-1, 1-2 CC) refused to allow the Bears in behind them, forcing Merced to build up through the middle and force its way through a mass of bodies.
The defensive tactic had the added bonus of sucking Merced defenders forward into the attack and creating some odd-man opportunities on the counterattack.
Trillo took full advantage of that, sprinting past the Bear defense on a ball played over the top in the 16th minute.
Merced sweeper Jose Alvarado dragged Trillo down in the penalty box, and the senior striker converted the spot kick to make it 1-0.
After limited offensive opportunities for both teams in the opening 40 minutes, things opened up a bit in the second half.
Merced left winger Eric Figueroa finally found some space on the left side in the 54th minute, but had his drive glance off the post and then Atwater keeper Mario Chavez (four saves).
Trillo made the Bears pay for the near miss two minutes later.
A misplay by the Merced defense sprung Atwater on the break.
Rodolfo Ulloa sucked in the last Bear defender and then slid a ball into the path of a sprinting Trillo on the left wing.
He drove a left-footed shot to the far post to make it 2-0.
"It's just kind of the way the game played out, but if we get a chance to counter, we'll go hard," Trillo said. "Our attack was a little faster than their defense, so we pushed it whenever we got a chance."
It turned out Atwater would need the insurance as Merced fought to the final whistle.
Moua had a dipping rocket clank off of the right post in the 74th minute and the rebound was buried by Francisco Rodriguez. The play was whistled off for a controversial offsides call, however.
That proved costly as Adrian Lomeli headed home a corner kick for the Bears just two minutes later.
"Obviously that's a big call," McAfee said. "You never know what's going to happen after that.
"We had our chances again, but just haven't been able to score. At least we finally got one in the back of the net."