Chris Gaschen peeled away from the UC Santa Barbara center back, took the soft feed from Jake Hustedt and scored the Cal Poly men’s soccer team’s game-winning goal.
The thousands clad in Cal Poly green that were bouncing and hugging on the field at Alex G. Spanos Stadium turned toward the video board and cheered.
Because by the time Cal Poly had cued up the video replay of Gaschen’s score on the big screen — the deciding goal in overtime of a 2-1 win over No. 19 UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday — most of the 8,125 in attendance were celebrating with grass beneath their feet.
“It was incredible, you know,” Gaschen said, “you turn around and there’s 8,000 people running at you. It’s scary, but it’s so sweet. It’s incredible.”
Gaschen put one past Gauchos goalkeeper Sam Hayden 2 minutes, 17 seconds into overtime, the largely student crowd came pouring out of the stands and the Mustangs (6-5-3, 3-2-2 Big West Conference) strengthened their postseason résumé with the first victory over their arch rivals since 2007.
It had been seven matches, five of which had gone into overtime, against the Gauchos (10-4-2, 6-2-0 Big West) since Cal Poly pulled out a 2-1 win against them three years ago.
With the nationally televised win on Fox Soccer Channel, the Mustangs are now in a stronger position to make the Big West Tournament, and, Cal Poly head coach Paul Holocher said, to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament if they don’t get the conference’s automatic bid.
But all that seemed to matter to the crowd in attendance Wednesday, the 13th-largest regular-season men’s soccer attendance figure in NCAA history, was the win over tortilla-flinging UC Santa Barbara, the first upset of a ranked opponent in Spanos Stadium all season.
“I’m happy we won for the fans,” Gaschen said, “because we haven’t played well at home. We’re like one win and two ties. We tied UCLA and we tied UC Irvine, both top-25 teams. We get to play another top-25 team at home and finally get the win. It’s just huge.
“The fans love that, running onto the field, probably more than watching the game, which is awesome. It’s such a blessing to have that many people that love soccer. That’s part of the reason I came to SLO, for the fans. We have an incredible fan base.”
Unlike last season’s matchup between the two teams at Spanos Stadium, which ended in a scoreless tie, there was early action aplenty.
Within the first two minutes, UC Santa Barbara had already gotten off two shots, and Cal Poly followed suit at the end of the third minute, when Mustangs freshman George Malki fired a rebound in front of the net that Gauchos goalkeeper Sam Hayden grabbed for a diving save.
Two minutes later, UC Santa Barbara midfielder Danny Barrera got hit with a yellow card. To even things out, Mustangs midfielder Evan Richter was carded later in the half.
Though the Gauchos were the more aggressive team — they finished the first half with a 16-5 shot advantage and forced Cal Poly goalkeeper Patrick McLain to make six saves — the Mustangs struck first.
Tim White got a steal 30 yards out near the left sideline and dribbled into the corner, where he fed it to Junior Burgos just outside the left corner of the box. Burgos went low to the opposite side of the box to beat a diving Hayden.
UC Santa Barbara got the equalizer when David Opoku, who tallied three shots on goal in the first half alone, created space for himself from 12 yards out and spun to beat McLain to the keeper’s left.