In front of a record crowd at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, against arch-rival UCSB, Cal Poly midfielder George Malki found himself with the ball deep in the box behind the Gauchos goalie with just two hapless defenders standing between him and the Mustangs’ first trip to the playoffs since 2010.
He took a clean first touch, fired, and the rest is history.
Malki buried his shot in the right corner of the goal in the 77th minute in front of 11,075 screaming fans, lifting the Cal Poly men’s soccer team to the 1-0 victory and sending the Mustangs to the Big West Conference semifinals at Northridge on Wednesday.
With the win, the Mustangs improved to 11-6-1 on the year and 6-3-1 in the Big West. Both marks tie the program record.
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“I don’t really remember what happened,” Malki said. “I remember the ball squirted loose, I took another touch, and luckily the ball went in the goal.
“I have no idea how it got through, but as soon as it went in everyone was out of their seats and I couldn’t hear anything it was so loud. I got goosebumps.”
The 10th-largest regular-season crowd in NCAA history exploded after the goal, and the Mustangs rode the wave of momentum to their second win over UCSB this season. It is only the second time Cal Poly has swept the season series with the Gauchos, and the first time since the 1997 season.
“We got that 1-0 lead and our defense kept it strong, we all played strong,” Malki said. “Everyone had a great game and we got the win. It’s exciting.”
It was Malki’s fourth goal of the season, this time off an assist from Chris Gaschen, his seventh on the year.
The Mustangs needed at least a tie to advance to the playoffs, thanks to a 2-1 victory by UC Davis over Sacramento State earlier in the day. Cal Poly, however, was playing to win.
“I didn’t know we only needed a tie to be honest,” Mustangs forward Mackenzie Pridham said. “We were just trying to go out, trying to produce and get a victory.
“We knew they were going to come out with everything on the table. The rivalry already has something special that makes it even crazier. Knowing it was going to be their last game, no matter what, we knew it was going to be a battle.”
Now that Cal Poly has advanced, they will face a Matador squad on Wednesday in the conference semifinals. The team has never advanced past the semis in four tries, the latest in 2010.
Mustangs head coach Paul Holocher understood the importance of Saturday’s match.
“First of all, it’s a spot in the Big West playoffs, that’s the most important thing,” Holocher said. “Second, it’s a sweep of Santa Barbara. The fact that we have 11,000 people and a couple thousand people outside just goes to show you how passionate Cal Poly is about soccer.”