In the game to decide the Big West champion, nothing was decided. UCSB and Cal Poly battled to a 0-0 tie in front of a crowd of 9,749 Wednesday night, making Saturday’s season finale at Davis all-important.
It was a match that had everything but a goal – featuring breakaways, free kicks, hard fouls, flying tortillas, a penalty kick and a red card sendoff. But in the end, neither team could break the stalemate.
“Given all the chances we had, I think we’re all kind of disappointed,” junior defenseman Martin Hedevag said. “But at the same time, I’m sure so are they.”
Things started off quickly for the Gauchos, with a brilliant opportunity in the seventh minute. Senior forward Chris Pontius took a cross inside the six-yard box and headed it hard toward the goal. However, Cal Poly keeper Eric Branagan-Franco dove quickly and one-handed the ball away from danger.
About half an hour later, Branagan-Franco saved the ball, and the Mustangs, yet again. Freshman midfielder Danny Barrera ripped a ball from just outside the box, but the Cal Poly keeper fully extended toward the post and just deflected the ball away from the net.
At half time, the Gauchos were out-shooting the Mustangs 8-1 but had yet to find the net. That would apparently change in the 51st minute, when Pontius ripped another header on frame. This time Branagan-Franco jumped back a step to react and grabbed the shot as it went right to him. The ball, however, appeared to have crossed the goal line before it reached the keeper’s hands, which would have given UCSB a 1-0 lead. The officials saw it differently though, and the match remained scoreless.
“I should have put some balls away,” Pontius said after the match. Despite the self-deprecation, the senior was clearly the best threat the Gauchos had, creating chance after chance throughout the match.
The game dynamic shifted drastically in the 76th minute, when junior defenseman Jon Curry was called for a handball in the box. This resulted in a penalty kick opportunity for the Mustangs, who went with midfielder Anton Peterlin. Peterlin, with a chance to take the late lead and potentially the Big West regular season title, rocketed his shot straight ahead – and way over the net.
The relief did not last long for UCSB though, as just three minutes later freshman midfielder Luis Silva went up for a header and came down with a red card. The referee contended that Silva had used his elbow to take down the Mustang player in the air and immediately ejected the freshman.
Now shorthanded, the Gauchos struggled to keep Cal Poly off the board. The remainder of the half saw several great chances for both squads, but neither could find the net. As the game went into overtime, none of the near 10,000 fans in attendance left their seats.
Cal Poly dominated the first overtime period, registering three corner kicks in the first minute, but somehow came up empty handed. A few times it looked like the Mustangs were going to come up with the game-winner, but every time the Gauchos were able to dodge the bullet.
In the second overtime, the Gauchos began to regain control. Pontius registered two free kicks within inches of the frame, but neither ended up true. Then, with just 15 seconds left, junior forward David Walker streaked into the box and rocketed a ball toward the upper right corner of the net. The shot missed by about a foot, and time expired on the Central Coast rivals.
“Cal Poly played pretty good defense, our defense was solid,” Pontius said. “A tie’s not the worst thing that could happen.
“The red card killed us though.”
While a tie was not the ideal result for UCSB, the Gauchos feel fine about the outcome.
“[It was a] great crowd tonight – great support on a Wednesday night,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I think it adds another chapter to the story.
“We only have three shutouts on the season, so to get two of them against [Cal] Poly I guess we did something right. We played with a lot of passion in the back and a lot of intensity.”
While not record-breaking, the 9,749 fans in attendance marks the second largest regular season crowd ever to watch a game at Harder Stadium. It is a fitting farewell to the seniors, who were all on the 2006 National Champion squad and have contributed to some of the best years of UCSB soccer.
“This is amazing,” Pontius said. “This is why I came to this school.
“I’ve said it a million times. I wouldn’t play anywhere else.”
Santa Barbara can still win the Big West title and subsequently host the Big West tournament with a win on Saturday at Davis. The Aggies will provide a big test for the Gauchos though, as UCD came away with a 2-0 win the first time these two teams met this season.
“Davis is a tough place to play at, but it’s a bit of a revenge game,” Pontius said. “They beat us 2-0 at home; we’re going to go beat them at their place.”