ATWATER — The Buhach Colony boys soccer team was in need of some inspiration.
Despite controlling the first half of a pivotal Central California Conference tilt with Golden Valley, the Cougars produced the game's most dangerous chances in their handful of opportunities.
Rodrigo Avila changed all that with a moment of individual magic in the final minute of the first half.
The senior midfielder curled a low free kick around the wall from 19 yards out, beating goalkeeper Toby Osborne to the far post. The goal eased some of the pressure off of the Thunder, who cruised from there to a 3-1 victory.
"Toby was eating up everything high, so we told Rodrigo to keep it low," BC head coach Gus Oliveros said. "It was a great shot and it came at the perfect time.
"We were outshooting them, but we seemed a little lackadaisical. They had some scary chances the other way, but I think the goal calmed everybody down."
The win moves Buhach Colony (14-7-3, 6-6-2 CCC) back into the third and final CCC playoff spot with one game to play.
Merced's 3-0 victory over Turlock kept it in second place, two points ahead of Buhach Colony. The Thunder jumped over Atwater, which lost to Pitman, and sit a point ahead.
Merced's victory secured a playoff berth, leaving Atwater and BC to fight for the final spot. The teams will meet at Falcon Field on Wednesday night in the final game of the regular season.
"We had to have this one," Oliveros said. "We've put ourselves back into the playoffs and now we have to finish it.
"The guys are finishing the season the way they started it. We can't ask for more."
BC built a 3-0 lead midway through the second half. However, there were some nervous moments for the Thunder in the opening 40 minutes.
A GV counter created an odd-man rush and Alexis Orozco found himself all alone at the back door, but he fanned on the shot.
Esten Schroeder played Eric Vasquez cleanly in on goal a few minutes later, but Thunder goalkeeper Miguel Guerrero (five saves) denied him with a spectacular one-handed save.
Avila broke the deadlock six minutes later, finally beating Osborne (five saves).
The Cougars (5-13-4, 3-8-2 CCC) were never the same after the break.
"It's not the first goal we've given up just before the half or before the end of a game," Cougars coach Lance Eber said. "As soon as they scored our heads went down.
"We just didn't have the same focus in the second half and we lost our defensive shape."
Buhach began to take advantage, finding more open space in the final 40 minutes.
The Thunder doubled their lead in the 55th minute, when Sergio Navarro's shot from the left wing deflected into the path of Salvador Davalos. The junior one-timed the ball from just inside the 18, blasting it off of Osborne and into the net.
Buhach Colony put the match away five minutes later.
Osborne kept hope alive with a big one-on-one save, but couldn't hold the ball and it deflected to a wide open Thunder player. Jose Melgarejo made a desperation dive in front of the open net, but turned the shot away with his hand, earning a red card and giving BC a penalty kick.
Hector Maldonado converted the penalty to make it 3-0.
Ten-man Golden Valley got a consolation goal from Orozco in the final minute to make it 3-1.
Merced 3, Turlock 0
Meng Moua scored two goals for the second consecutive game to help the host Bears (18-7-1, 7-6-1 CCC) secure a playoff berth.
Pitman 4, Atwater 1
Ben Belmonte put the Falcons (6-7-1 CCC) up at the half, but things unraveled after intermission with four unanswered goals by the host Pride.