Eight minutes into the match, Cal Poly was already seeing their Big West playoff hopes slip away.
Roadrunners celebrated in the corner as Mustang defenders were picking up the ball out of the back of the net.
However, with a first career goal and an equalizer in the 28th minute from freshman defender Joaquin Torres, the Mustangs drew with CSU Bakersfield 1-1 on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Bakersfield.
The Mustangs (5-7-4, 3-3-3 BW) earned a playoff berth at the expense of the Roadrunners, who are now just outside of the top six in the Big West, (7-5-5, 3-4-2 BW) in a physical match that saw 17 fouls on both teams.
The Mustangs were selected last in the conference’s preseason poll but have made their way to the fifth seed in the Big West Championships.
The Mustangs and UC Riverside are tied via record, but a greater point differential for the Mustangs moves them to the fifth seed, They will take on No. 4 UC Davis on Wednesday, Oct. 1 in the opening round.
It took eight minutes for the home side to find the advantage that they desperately needed. The Roadrunner’s Rashaad Ogun slid a ball across the face of the net, and Connor Mautino put it into the roof of the net, starting the party in Bakersfield.
The 22nd minute saw a long ball over the top of the Cal Poly defense, leaving freshman defender Parker Owens to hack down the promising attack, earning a yellow but keeping the game at 1-0.
Junior forward Jackson Kestler had daylight and looked to equalize in the 26th minute, but his shot sailed just wide of the target.
The Mustangs found their way back into the match in the 30th minute. After a corner kick. the ensuing scramble saw Torres with a clear lane at the net, and he equalized the game at 1-1.
As time wound down in the first half, Cal Poly had a corner that was flicked from front post to back post to an unmarked graduate, Emory Rapaport. But he put it just wide, and the horn sounded for halftime.
It didn’t take long for the Mustangs to threaten the Roadrunners. A back pass to the keeper was blocked by sophomore Luke Schaefer and bounded towards the net. Schaefer however couldn’t get to the ball in time, and a major insurance goal would go unclaimed.
A caution came out to Torres in the 55th minute for stopping another Bakersfield promising attack.
Bakersfield and Cal Poly traded counterattacks with no shots coming particularly close to the net as the Mustangs waited for time to tick off.
Another yellow card came out in the 75th as Rapaport threw a Roadrunner to the ground.
As fouls kept piling up both for and against Bakersfield, the home crowd grew restless. Still waiting for the goal to put their team ahead and in the playoffs.
Pushing for the go-ahead goal in the 82nd minute, Mautino clattered into freshman midfielder Rylan Firouznam and earned himself a yellow.
Not even 30 seconds yellow and Firouznam picked a yellow card up as the clock ticked down and tensions rose.
A last cross from the Roadrunners was hit too far, the Mustangs survived and advanced to the playoffs.
As Head Coach Oige Kennedy said earlier in the week, he wanted his team to be playing for something in the last game of the season. The Mustangs have succeeded in accomplishing that.
Cal Poly plays away at UC Davis in the opening round of the Big West Championship on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.