Gauchos Come Back to Draw With Cal Poly in Front of Season-Best Crowd

Photo by Tony Mastres
Photo by Tony Mastres

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – In front of the second largest regular season, on-campus crowd in NCAA history, the Gauchos fought back from a two-goal deficit to land a 2-2 tie with Blue-Green rival Cal Poly behind goals from forwards Ludwig Ahl and Nick DePuy in a Prime Ticket-televised match at Harder Stadium on Saturday night.

A season-high 14,345 fans filled the Harder Stadium stands, the most in any collegiate game since an NCAA record 15,896 saw the Gauchos take down UCLA on Sep. 24, 2010. The high draw continues a tradition for Blue-Green games, as UCSB (7-6-3, 3-2-2) and Cal Poly (8-4-4, 3-2-2) matchups comprise 10 of the top-15 highest attended regular season, on-campus games in Division I history.

"The crowd was amazing tonight and the two teams sure put a show on for them," said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "This is what college soccer is supposed to be, and this is what UCSB-Cal Poly games are known for. I'm proud that we were able to come back from that early hole."

The thousands of Gauchos supporters were treated to quite the soccer match, as UCSB responded to a two-goal deficit with a thrilling comeback followed by continued momentum that saw the squad dominate the second half and overtime periods despite its inability to push across a game winner.

Cal Poly's Justin Dhillon was the man responsible for putting the Mustangs up by a pair with a goal on each side of the halftime break. He opened the scoring in the 14th minute after he scored on a breakaway made possible by a Kaba Alkebulan flick at the halfway line. He then scored what appeared to be a backbreaker just six minutes into the second half, beating UCSB keeper Brandon Berke from about 12 yards after being played into the box by Jack O'Connor.

Undeterred by the score margin, the Gauchos immediately bounced back to bring it back within one.

Entering the game after the Dhillon goal, sophomore midfielder Andy Perez greeted the Harder Stadium crowd by finding space to the right of the 18-yard box with the ball at his feet. Perez then sent a low diagonal cross into the box. DePuy appeared to be readying for a strike, but instead dummied and let the pass go through his legs to Ahl, who rammed home a 14 yard strike past a stunned Mustangs defense.

From that point on, it was all UCSB, as the Gauchos would outshoot their opponents 17-3 for the remainder of the contest. Vom Steeg's squad had a few good looks at an equalizer via shots from Drew Murphy and DePuy that went just wide, but eventually got the tying goal in the 66th minute.

On a break, freshman midfielder Axel Mendez played a ball to DePuy, who was making a run into the box. DePuy took the high pass off his chest, settled with a touch, then blew it past Cal Poly keeper Wade Hamilton for the score.

UCSB had the better run of play in overtime, outshooting Cal Poly 7-0 in extra time. However, none of the shots found their way on frame.

Despite the two goals allowed, it was a banner day for Hamilton, who made nine saves in the match, the most by a UCSB opponent this season. He made point blank saves on senior forward Reed McKenna, junior forward Charlie Miller and Ahl and was probably the main reason the Gauchos didn't walk away with the full three points.

His counterpart, Berke, had a less prolific day with three saves, but was just as vital. The freshman made big saves on Alkebulan in the first half and Dhillon in the second half.

Some of the younger players on the squad were pleased with the volume – number and noise – of the crowd.

"I saw more students than usual during warm-ups, so I knew it was going to be bigger than usual," said sophomore left back Ismaila Jome. "But once the game started, I was focused in and didn't really notice the stands. Then when I went to take a throw-in, I looked up and said 'Oh my God! Where did you all come from?' You could really feel the momentum change after the first goal, the crowd was awesome."

Still tied with the Mustangs for second place in the Big West North, the Gauchos will tangle with the top team in the North on Wednesday night as they welcome in UC Davis for the final regular season home game of the 2014 season. A pregame ceremony will honor the seniors of the squad.