Randy Mendoza charges toward the goal after sliding past a defender. Dustin Harris / Daily Nexus

In the biggest rivalry in college soccer, the Big West-leading Gaucho men’s soccer team hosted northern neighbor Cal Poly with the chance to clinch the Big West North by sending the visitors home with their second Blue-Green loss in as many weeks. The home fans were rocking, but Santa Barbara couldn’t find a winning goal as the game played out to a 0-0 stalemate following overtime.

UCSB remains atop the North division with the result at 5-0-3 in Big West play, 9-5-3 overall, five points clear of second-place Sac State, and although the home side failed to clinch the North with a win over the Mustangs, a tie in either of SB’s last two regular season games would essentially clinch the title. As for the Mustangs, the tie leaves the squad at the bottom of the division at 1-5-2 in conference play while standing them at 3-9-3 overall.

The 11,424 in attendance at Harder made up the largest crowd in the country this season for a men’s soccer game, and the rivalry is now responsible for drawing 15 of the 20 largest regular season crowds in NCAA soccer. Early on, the atmosphere was deafening, students packing the main grandstand to the brim, but as the game played out, both teams settled into what would become a dirty, defensive battle.

The visitors seemed to have opened the scoring in the 15th minute when Cal Poly senior defender Kody Wakasa directed the ball past freshman keeper Titouan Le Roux with his right hand and was shown the match’s first yellow for the blatant hand ball.

After that, the Gauchos were able to create several chances through crosses from the wingers and fullbacks, coming closest in the 22nd minute as senior striker Nick DePuy smashed his towering header off the crossbar and back into play, but no teammates were around before the Mustang defense was able to clear their line.

The All-American striker was hugely involved in his team’s best chances, including a team-high five shots. Despite his recent scoring troubles, DePuy has been doing everything to get on the scoresheet and is tied for second on the team with six goals this year. His recent dry spell — one goal in last seven matches — even left his teammates and coaches wishing a bit of luck on the frontman.

“The streak is at eight now. Nick’s hit the post on a header in eight straight games and he did it again tonight,” said Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg half-jokingly. “He’s still getting up and battling for that ball, but it’s just one of those unlucky streaks where he keeps finding the post, and tonight that’s the goal that opens up the whole game. Unfortunate, but Nick played very, very well tonight.”

UCSB dominated the match, holding Cal Poly to just one shot in each half, but the Gaucho attack failed to find a goal as it pressed on in the second half and overtime. The Mustangs stacked all but one man behind the ball for the last forty minutes, including OT. Santa Barbara outshot the visitors 10-2, but were ultimately held scoreless for the first time in eleven games.

The meeting was highly contested with 35 total fouls, and each team had at least two valid penalty claims that were waived on by the referee. In the postgame press conference, Vom Steeg said the allowance of overly physical play made it too difficult for either team to score, and ultimately Poly stayed resolute in the back, earning a tie at Harder for the second straight year.

“It’s really hard to generate an attack when they can physically hold you back,” said Vom Steeg. “Nick played great tonight considering its two arms around his waist wrapped up so you can’t get free. You can’t get open in that box because at some point you realize there won’t be a call.”

Having just beaten Cal Poly on the road last weekend, SB planned on wearing out the Mustangs and taking the game late, and while the coaching staff must have been pleased with how their game plan played out, the offense couldn’t find the moment it needed to break the deadlock. A win would’ve clinched the Big West North for the reigning division champs, but the Gauchos were unable to find the winner and are now forced to grab a positive result this week in order to lock up at least one home game for conference playoffs.

“It would’ve been nice to get the title in front of the crowd, but the team played really well,” said junior midfielder Kevin Feucht, who leads UCSB with 10 goals. “If you play five more minutes we find the goal. At the end they were split up and sliding all over the field, so if we had one final shot, one final pass, we could’ve got the win.”

The biggest crowd of the year brought an electric energy to the rivalry match, but the game never opened up enough to do the nationally-televised meeting justice, as both teams locked up the opposing attackers and played out the Blue-Green rivalry’s first scoreless draw since 2009.

UCSB’s next match is at Sac St. on Wednesday, October 26 at 3 p.m.