TYLER -- Area coaches pegged Kilgore as the team to beat in Class 4A prior to Monday's big regional quarterfinal match, but they certainly knew the team would encounter some tests on its journey.

So far, so good. The Bulldogs staved off Athens for a 3-1 win at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in its first real test of the postseason.

"It's very exciting," head coach Austin Walker said. "We have our goals and our expectations set very high for ourselves. They've reached every one of them thus far. It's really good to see all the work that they've done and put in pay off."

Athens' Jordy Castaneda scraps with Andrew Espinoza in the midst of a Hornets' momentum swing in the latter stages of the first half. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Walker's club enjoyed a cake walk to the third round of the state tournament. It defeated its first two playoff opponents by a combined score of 17-1.

Athens, with a 17-8 record, was a dramatically different team. The Hornets won their two opening postseason games by scores of 4-0.

For the first time in a long time, Kilgore (23-3-1) battled through a momentum swing.

Gerardo Vasquez helped make things interesting toward the halftime whistle with a deflected crossing pass that found its way into the net. That allowed Athens to cut Kilgore's lead to a manageable 2-1 margin with 7:19 remaining in the frame.

The Hornets nearly closed the half with the equalizing goal. Jose Martinez missed just wide of the right post after failed clearing attempt with a minute to play.

That was about as good as it got for Athens, however. Kilgore regained control in the early minutes of the second half.

"The changes were simple," Walker said. "It was somebody getting to the ball as soon as they touched it. We're a high-pressure team and that's what we try to do. We just didn't have it in the first half. We just said, 'Hey calm down. You have the lead. Now let's do what we're taught to do and pressure the ball.'"

Junior forward Christian Galvan recorded his third goal of the game with the final touch on a 40-yard volley from David Garcia with 28:30 left in the match.

Galvan opened scoring with a 20-yard free kick less than seven minutes into the game. Seven minutes later, he outran two Athens defenders and scored with the back side of his right foot for a 2-0 lead.

"Last year, we went out in the third round," Galvan said. "To this game, I was having nightmares and we didn't want it to happen again. I'm happy for our seniors. We didn't want that to happen for our seniors."

The Bulldogs allowed seven shot attempts in the first half. The Hornets were held to four shots in the latter 40 minutes, none of those requiring stops from goalkeeper Tomas Tapia.

Kilgore recorded 16 on target shots in the game. Athens' David Cedillo made 13 saves.

The winner of Tuesday's game between Crandall and Kaufman will face the Bulldogs in the regional semifinal round. That match will be played at 5 p.m. Friday inside Rose Stadium.

Kilgore is two games away from a state tournament appearance and four victories away from the grand prize.

"I would not be shocked at all," Athens head coach Jonathan Ryal said. "To be honest with you, I'm hoping for a Kilgore-Palestine state championship game. Coach (Austin) Walker and I have gotten to be real close this season. I've coached at Palestine, so I'm real close with Jeff Absalom. But Kilgore is awesome and we didn't play our best. I told our guys before the game that we would have to play A+."

Kilgore's Jose Contreras (3) and Spencer Stegall (1) celebrate with Christian Galvan after Galvan's second goal of the game. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)