Cal Poly’s Kody Wakasa picked an incredible time to score the first goal of his college career.
With the Mustangs and No. 13-ranked UC Santa Barbara tied in double overtime Saturday night, the junior defender headed in the game-winning goal in the 104th minute to send Cal Poly to a thrilling 3-2 victory.
The 13th sellout crowd in Alex G. Spanos Stadium history helped propel Cal Poly to its first win against the Big West Conference-leading Gauchos since the 2012 season.
After UC Santa Barbara’s Josue Espana was issued his second yellow card in the 99th minute and was ejected from the game, the Mustangs were able to take advantage. Junior Jack O’Connor lofted in a corner kick from the right side and Wakasa took care of the rest, sending an already raucous stadium into a complete frenzy.
“This is why we do what we do all preseason, all winter, all spring,” said Wakasa, a Hillsborough native. “It just comes down to who wants it more.”
First-year head coach Steve Sampson, whose decorated resume includes time as the head coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team, said his introduction to the heated Blue-Green Rivalry certainly lived up to expectations.
“That had to be one of the best college soccer games that I’ve ever been involved with or ever seen,” Sampson said.
Pandemonium! Cal Poly scores game winning goal in OT to beat UCSB. Fans storm the field. pic.twitter.com/dC2rs1a2F6— Travis Gibson (@TravisDgibson) October 18, 2015
Much of that credit can be shared with the home crowd, comprised largely of students, which provided extra energy from the opening kick. For the sixth consecutive year, the Blue-Green Rivalry game sold out Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The announced attendance of 11,075 might have been a slight understatement given how tightly the students filled the bleachers. And after Wakasa’s game-winner, the first time he’s scored in 57 careers matches, the fans rushed the field in a sea of green and yellow.
“There was definitely a little something extra,” said senior defender Kip Colvey, who scored his third goal of the season in the 30th minute. “They were vocal throughout, even when we went behind they got behind us and that was really important.”
UC Santa Barbara quieted the stadium briefly with a goal in the seventh minute on a remarkable shot from the top of the box off the foot of Ismaila Jome. Cal Poly was quick to answer, however, when junior Justin Dhillon fed Ruben Duran for a goal less than four minutes later.
The Mustangs (8-3-3, 3-1-2 Big West) went ahead in the 30th minute when Colvey chipped a shot past Gauchos goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg. Fellow senior Matt LaGrassa was credited with the assist on the play, his first of the season.
UC Santa Barbara (9-5-1, 4-2) evened the score nine minutes later when reserve Seo-In Kim was able to sneak a ball past senior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton off a corner kick from Geoffrey Acheampong.
“I think the speed of play was incredible, the intensity was incredible, and you can see what playing in front of a crowd does for players,” Sampson said. “It just raises the standard and obviously playing against a quality team like Santa Barbara, it forces our guys to concentrate and to play faster.”
Kody Wakasa won't have to worry about his parents bugging him any more after scoring his first career goal.#CalPoly pic.twitter.com/TmeJBiwsKU
— Travis Gibson (@TravisDgibson) October 18, 2015
Saturday’s victory gave the Mustangs' chances of winning the Big West Conference title a significant boost. Through six conference games, Cal Poly and UC Davis each have 11 points in the North Division of the Big West standings, trailing the Gauchos by one point.
UC Santa Barbara entered the week on a five-game winning streak, but dropped a 5-2 decision at Sacramento State on Wednesday and suffered consecutive losses for the first time all season after falling against Cal Poly.
“Every game from here on out is very important,” Wakasa said. “It’s the Big West and losing to Davis last game really kind of hurt us, but we kind of knew it’s going to happen. It’s how we respond and I think this is a great response.”
The Mustangs were outshot 23-12 overall and 9-8 in shots on goal. Having a goalkeeper like Hamilton, who Sampson has said is one of the best in the country, proved beneficial once again. Hamilton’s six saves matched his season-best total, giving him 40 stops in 14 games this season.
Cal Poly’s defense was equally impressive in front of the box. The Mustangs held UC Santa Barbara’s Nick DePuy scoreless on five shots, something few teams have been able to do this season. DePuy, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, leads the Big West and ranks second in the country with 12 goals in 15 games.
Sampson credited Wakasa and junior Austin Wilcox for challenging DePuy throughout the match and forcing him to play outside his comfort zone.
“Obviously they’ve got some exceptionally talented players that we had to give a lot of respect to,” Sampson said. “If we didn’t defend as well as we attacked, we would never have won this game.”