The atmosphere was what everyone has grown to expect from the Blue-Green men’s soccer rivalry.
The result: Well, a 1-1 double-overtime draw isn’t exactly what Cal Poly has bred its rabid soccer following to celebrate in its annual home match against rival UC Santa Barbara.
“It’s nice, but this is kind of a feeling of disappointment, just not complete,” Mustangs senior midfielder George Malki said after Friday night’s match. “We drew the tie, but I thought we had some chances that we could have put them away.
“I’m sorry for the fans. I wanted them to rush the field.”
Instead, the 11,075 that packed Alex G. Spanos Stadium, which officially sold out Wednesday, wandered back out the gates in the definition of anti-climax.
Cal Poly had spoiled its students and recruits with dramatic victories in each of the past two seasons at home against the Gauchos, each time giving the sellout crowd reason to flee the stands for a celebration on the field.
Overall, the Mustangs had won three in a row in the series. Neither team has won four straight against the other since Cal Poly head coach Paul Holocher joined the program in 2006.
Freshman Justin Dhillon was at last year’s affair on his official recruiting visit, a 1-0 loss where Malki scored the game-winner.
“When I got home, I was like ‘Mom, dad, I have to come to this school. I have to be a part of this.’ ”
This season, Dhillon gave the Mustangs (9-6-2, 2-3-2 Big West Conference) a 1-0 lead over the No. 21 Gauchos (11-4-1, 6-0-1 Big West) with a ninth-minute header off a corner kick by Malki.
The ball skidded to the ground where UC Santa Barbara keeper Josh McNeely pawed it but ultimately watched it dribble into the net.
“I headed it home and I just took off on a full sprint,” Dhillon said. “I may have been tired, but all that might have slipped away. I was just so excited the adrenaline was rushing through everything. It was unbelievable.”
The Mustangs held the lead, and appeared poised to go into the half up one, but UC Santa Barbara got the equalizer in the final minute when Achille Campion scored unassisted with 23 seconds left before the break.
Holocher theorized after the match that Cal Poly would have some out more relaxed and confident had the Mustangs not lost focus so late in the half.
As it was, Holocher said, Cal Poly somewhat abandoned its possession style to counter attack for quick scoring opportunities.
“We had moments but not enough,” Holocher said.
“That was the most direct we had to play all year. We could have been more patient, but at the same time, Santa Barbara is very good at playing long ball and having somebody hold it up top.
“They’re very physical and tough and ball-winners. They did take us out of our game a little bit.”
There were also a few chippy moments that seem to be reserved for emotional rivalries like this one.
The fanbases are rabid when it comes to this matchup and have bore that out in numbers. Games between the Gauchos and Mustangs in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo make up one third of the 33 largest regular-season crowds in NCAA men’s soccer history.
There were five yellow cards handed out, including one to Cal Poly’s Steve Palacios for drop-kicking a ball into the gut of UC Santa Barbara’s Fifi Baiden to close out the first half.
Malki and McNeely also came nose to nose in overtime after the two got tangled up going after a 50-50 ball.
Malki said he braced himself for a collision as McNeely charged and the Gauchos keeper took offense when Malki grabbed on to keep from falling down.
“He got in my face, and I’m not going to back down, and he’s not going to back down. We talked after that and it was good. He’s a good goalie.”
McNeely needed to make just four saves, but each one denied a crucial chance for the Mustangs. Cal Poly still ranked as the highest-scoring team in the country coming into the game, but McNeely denied both Mackenzie Pridham and Ari Lassiter on open chances.
Lassiter nearly had the go-ahead goal in the second half before McNeely stoned him with a diving stop, and Pridham was set up with a clear lane early in the first overtime period before McNeely punched it away.
Cal Poly keeper Wade Hamilton stepped up his game as well, recording five saves in the second half. He finished with six for the game. The Gauchos did not get a shot on goal in either of the overtimes.
The Mustangs can take some solace in halting a seven-match winning streak by UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos had won six straight in the conference to take a commanding lead in the northern division of the Big West and will clinch first place with three matches to play if Sacramento State is able to beat or tie UC Davis today.
Cal Poly is setting its sights on second place and will get a leg up on the Aggies, whom they tied 1-1 on Tuesday, as the long as UC Davis is unable to beat the Hornets.
“We’re disappointed with a tie,” Holocher said. “Obviously, you want to win this game in front of this great crown, but it was a very competitive game, and Santa Barbara is a good team. At the end of the day, it was exciting and competitive, and we’ll move on from here.”