Two years ago, Kyle Montgomery thought he was done with college soccer.
The Cal Poly midfielder was a sophomore standout who came up big in some of the Mustangs’ biggest matches.
Until he made the choice not to.
“I needed some time to just kind of figure my life out,” said Montgomery, who left the team after the 2008 season and wasn’t banking on his return to the field this year.
“There were some motivational issues I had toward the end of my second year when I decided to leave.”
A 5-6, 140-pound can of energy drink, Montgomery subscribes to a theory: If you can’t do something with all your heart, do something else.
Fortunately for Cal Poly, Montgomery came to decide that the something was soccer after two full seasons as just a regular student.
The senior created both of the Mustangs goals in Friday’s 2-1 victory over No. 12 UC Santa Barbara, connecting with Cameron Walters on a corner kick and drawing a foul and penalty kick in the final minute that Patrick Sigler put away for the second straight bleachers-clearing win over the rival Gauchos at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“I missed Kyle a lot, man,” Sigler said. “As you can tell, Kyle’s a baller. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the country, and if he’s on his game, he’s unstoppable, and he showed it tonight.”
It was the first comeback victory by Cal Poly (6-5-2, 3-2-0 Big West Conference) this season and moved the Mustangs into a second-place tie with Cal State Northridge in the Big West race.
It was also a capacity crowd of 11,075 — the first for men’s soccer since UC Santa Barbara walked away with a 1-0 overtime victory in 2008 marred by a bottle-throwing incident. The two matches are tied for the eighth-largest regular-season attendance figures in NCAA history.
Cal Poly improved to 3-1-1 against UC Santa Barbara (9-4-1, 2-3-0 Big West) in the past five matches at Spanos Stadium. The Mustangs won 2-1 in 2007 and 2010. Chris Gaschen had the deciding goal in overtime last year, prompting a stadium full of fans to run the field.
It seemed for most of Friday night’s match that a replay was unlikely to take place.
UC Santa Barbara forward Sam Garza leveraged a ball away from Sigler to score an easy one-on-one against goalkeeper Patrick McLain to give the Gauchos the lead in the 10th minute.
Minutes later, Sigler received a yellow card for yanking a UC Santa Barbara forward down by the shirt on a similar play, and the Mustangs appeared frustrated.
“That was definitely in the back of my mind, you know,” Sigler said. “I needed a little bit of redemption. It was a poor touch by me that led to their goal.
“If my time came, I was like, ‘I gotta put it away.’ ”
Adding to the pressure, senior defender Wes Feighner crumpled to the grass in the 31st minute when he appeared to plant his foot going for the ball.
Feighner somersaulted to the ground, where he remained until the Cal Poly training staff helped him limp off the field. He did not return.
Mustangs head coach Paul Holocher said he did not know the severity of the injury but feared it was serious.
“This win here tonight is for Wes Feighner,” Holocher said. “He’s our leader. He is probably the most wonderful young man I’ve ever met in my life and had the honor of being around. He was in severe pain. So, we’ll find out what the injury is, and Wes will come back strong.”
Cal Poly began to apply more offensive pressure in the match’s final 20 minutes. The Mustangs, who outshot the Gauchos 16-7, came up with a corner kick in the 79th minute where Montgomery found Walters streaking parallel to the goal toward the near post.
Walters headed it in for his first goal of the season and fourth of his career. The senior also netted one at Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara last season.
As the clock ticked toward overtime, Montgomery stole a ball and tried to break toward the left post from close to 20 yards out.
UC Santa Barbara defender Peter Schmetz appeared to trip Mongtomery, who tumbled head over heels on the foul with 39 seconds left in regulation. Sigler scored to the left post on the penalty kick, and the Gauchos could not get a shot off before time expired.
“I was actually expecting to get by him, get a shot on goal and maybe score,” Montgomery said. “But he kicked me out and went down and the ref made a good call.”