In a game fraught with disorder, Santa Barbara fell to the #18 Anteaters 2-0 on a cold Wednesday evening in Irvine.

While a win would have clinched a Big West Conference Championship, the loss gives the Anteaters (13-3-3 overall, 6-2-1 in the Big West) a one-point edge over the Gauchos (11-7-0, 6-3-0 Big West) with only a game left to play.

“It was just really chaotic; we never settled into the game,” sophomore forward Nick Perera said. “[After they got a goal], we panicked and the game turned into a ping-pong match.”

On paper, the Anteaters generated significantly more offense, which included a 12-5 shot advantage, two more corner kicks and two bizarre goals.

Irvine first struck pay-dirt in the 24th minute as sophomore midfielder and the Anteaters’ leading scorer Matt Murphy cashed in on some defensive confusion and knocked in a rebound from senior forward Anthony Hamilton’s shot.

And then in the 77th minute, as the time pressure to find an equalizer was mounting, a defender’s pass back to senior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish took an odd bounce that sprung the Anteaters’ offensive hub Brad Evans free to walk the ball into the back of the net.

“Their first goal came off a [scramble] in the box, and their second was just really unlucky,” Perera said. “It took a weird bounce and then kind of went off [Reynish’s] leg.”

While UCSB could not write the storybook ending it sought last night, the loss sets up a dramatic final weekend to the 2006 season.

UCSB has UC Riverside at home Saturday night at Harder Stadium, where it will try to avenge a loss to Riverside earlier this season – the Gauchos’ only loss to Riverside in nearly 30 years. But more importantly, they will try to nudge out Irvine for the title.

But they will need some help from an unfriendly face. UCSB needs its greatest conference foe of the past few years, Cal State Northridge, to find some strength from within and down the Anteaters at home.

Northridge cannot mathematically take league, and with only six victories all season, the Matadors are more than just a little unlikely to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so their gains for this game are almost completely intrinsic.

If records have much bearing – which they have not proven to do this season – then the Gauchos may be in luck, because Northridge plays well at home. This season the Mats have posted a 4-2-2 home record, including beating #6 Santa Clara and of course the 5-0 beating of the then-#19 Gaucho squad.

Riverside currently resides near the bottom of the heap in the conference race, but as history tells us, every dog has his day. In other words, while they have struggled to get in sync this season, the Gauchos have shown they have the ability to win or lose to anyone in the conference.

So in a game with enormous postseason implications, the Gauchos will need to scrape together one last W in the regular season to power their postseason run. If you have other plans for Saturday night, take a rain check, put on a yellow shirt and don’t miss the 7 p.m. kickoff.

On another bittersweet note, Saturday’s bout will likely mark the last home appearance of seniors Bryan Byrne, Eric Frimpong, Jeff Murphy and Kyle Reynish.