After being shut out Saturday for the first time in over 30 games, the Gauchos sorely needed some offense against UC Riverside. Their forwards obliged, and then some.

Behind Nick Perera’s two goals, UCSB cruised its way to a dominating 5-1 victory over UCR at Harder Stadium Tuesday night. The team couldn’t be more thrilled.

“It was very important for us to come out and make a statement,” senior forward Chris Pontius said.

The Gauchos got on the board early and often in this one, scoring first in the 17th minute when freshman midfielder Luis Silva found Pontius in space and UCSB’s leading scorer finished the job. Pontius quickly put the ball past Highlander keeper Ryan Schmitz, who had actually thwarted him once before already, and Santa Barbara led 1-0.

With the goal, tortillas flew from the meager but excitable crowd of 1,087 fans, and UCSB opened the floodgates from there.

Just seven minutes later, senior attacker Nick Perera found himself with possession inside the 18-yard box, and worked his way into space. The veteran quickly turned around on the ball and rocketed a left-footed shot off the crossbar and into the net.

Then, in the 27th minute, Perera found the net again. Pontius attempted a volley from 20 yards out, but shanked his shot to the right. Fortuitously for UCSB, Perera was in position in front of the goal and quickly deflected the ball back towards the near post, where it slowly trickled in past a startled Schmitz.

With a 3-0 lead less than a third of the way through the game, Santa Barbara replaced its starting forwards with substitutes, but that did not stop the attack. The 35th minute saw Schmitz take down Gaucho freshman midfielder Peter McGlynn in the box, and get a penalty kick called for it. Midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan took the PK for UCSB, and slowly rolled it to the right. Schmitz guessed left, and the Gauchos led 4-0 before halftime. Those four goals equaled their season high.

“The offense took the UC Davis game personally,” Pontius said. “I know I did, I know Nick [Perera] did and [junior forward David Walker] did.”

That combination would prove to be deadly Tuesday night, as the trio of forwards came together for four goals and an assist.

Going into the second half, UCSB was looking to keep its momentum and get a shutout, something that has eluded the Gauchos all but once this season. However, it was not meant to be.

Santa Barbara continued its second-half woes, coming out with lackluster play against a Riverside squad that was playing for pride. Just five minutes into the second half, Highlander defenseman Joel Crompton turned around on the ball from the top of the 18-yard box and rocketed it to the far post. The ball actually deflected off the post, and then spanned the goalmouth and hit the right side netting. The shutout was gone, as was UCSB’s momentum.

“The defense played well tonight,” freshman goalkeeper Kristopher Minton said. “But I want that shutout.”

After continuing to give up opportunities with the reserves in after the goal, Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg decided to return some of the Gauchos starters into the game to improve the level of play. David Walker was one of those players, and Vom Steeg’s decision was rewarded quickly when Walker and Silva connected in the 73rd minute. Silva played one of several pretty through-balls he had on the night to a streaking Walker, who boomed his shot to the upper right corner of the net. The goal was the Gauchos fifth, and would prove to be the final one of the night.

“I thought the score should have been 9-1,” Pontius said. “But [Schmitz] made some spectacular saves. He definitely played great.”

UCSB certainly was not devoid of chances. Santa Barbara out-shot the Highlanders 28-11, including 16 shots on goal to UCR’s four.

But after all was said and done, the Gauchos found themselves with a huge 5-1 victory and a lot of momentum going into Friday’s rivalry showdown at Cal Poly. The Gauchos appear to be on the right track again, but can expect a lot more tests along the way in a very strong conference.

That test looks a little less daunting when the team is firing on all cylinders.

“This was make or break for our season,” Minton said. “If we had lost at home to Riverside, we would probably have to win out to have any chance at the playoffs.

“But I want to win the conference. I want to be number one.”

If the Gauchos keep playing like this, that goal seems quite achievable.