Senior defender Tony Scimeca heads the ball over a UC Santa Barbara defender. Matt Lalanne | Mustang News

The biggest matchup in NCAA men’s soccer returned to Cal Poly Saturday night as the Mustangs dominated UC Santa Barbara 4-1 in the latest edition of the Blue-Green Rivalry. The win was the Mustangs’ first at home in the rivalry since 2015 and their final match of the 2017 season.

Neither team had scored four or more goals in a #BlueGreenRivalry matchup since 2001, until tonight.

— Mustang News (@CPMustangNews) October 29, 2017

Even though the Mustangs (7-10-1, 3-6-1) were eliminated from playoff contention before their match against the Gauchos (6-7-5, 4-3-3), 11,075 Central Coast soccer fans still flocked to the stadium, generating the largest crowd of any NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer match this season and the 14th largest in the history of men’s college soccer.

Though the Mustangs ended up running away with the match, the Gauchos scored first in the 18th minute. Cal Poly freshman goalkeeper Jason Hernandez was in good position and deflected the blast from Gauchos forward Rodney Michael, but the ball ricocheted off the goal post and into the net.

Roughly one minute before halftime, a broken play worked out in the Mustangs’ favor. Several Mustangs kept the ball alive after an errant corner kick until junior forward Jared Pressley found sophomore midfielder Kenneth Higgins in the middle of the box. Higgins flicked the ball to the right post past the Gauchos’ goalkeeper for the equalizer and injected new life into the Mustangs and the roaring crowd.


— Mustang News (@CPMustangNews) October 29, 2017

At the end of the first half, we were just happy to get the equalizer,” Cal Poly head coach Steve Sampson said. “Psychologically, that was really important for us because it allowed us to continue to believe in ourselves. To score three goals in the second half was remarkable, quite frankly.”

The Mustangs came out firing on all cylinders after halftime, still riding their momentum from the end of the first half. Just four minutes after the break, senior defender Tony Scimeca slipped the ball away from several defenders in front of the net, passing to senior defender Adam Olsen who found the back of the net to give the Mustangs the one-goal advantage.

With the momentum firmly back on the Mustangs’ side, they continued to pour it on. Just three minutes after Olsen’s goal, senior forward Kaba Alkebulan headed in a perfectly placed cross from Olsen to put the Mustangs up by two.

FINAL SCORE: @CPMensSoccer 4, @UCSbMensSoccer 1 #BlueGreenRivalry

— Mustang News (@CPMustangNews) October 29, 2017

“We had a tough past few games so it’s good to end with a win, especially against our rivals,” Alkebulan said. “It’s an unbelievable experience to be out here.”

But the Mustangs weren’t done. In the 66th minute, Pressley blasted a rocket of a shot to the top-right of the goal, beating the Gauchos’ goalkeeper to the corner and giving the Mustangs a 4-1 advantage.

“It was a split-second decision. I didn’t think that I could stop, plant and try to take a touch with my left foot,” Pressley said. “As Coach says, you gotta make a play, and I made a play. I made a touch behind and we scored.”

Until this game, neither team in the rivalry scored four or more goals against the other since Nov. 9, 2001, when UC Santa Barbara beat the Mustangs in San Luis Obispo.

As the final whistle blew, thousands of Cal Poly fans stormed the field to celebrate with the team, the usual procedure after a Mustang win in the Blue-Green Rivalry.

“We’ve built something here over the years that I think just about every other Division 1 university in the country is envious of,” Cal Poly Athletic Director Don Oberhelman said. “We want a rival, but we want it to be based on respect, not hostility. What I saw tonight was 98 percent good and respectful.”

As for the other 2 percent of that equation, Oberhelman said some Cal Poly soccer fans don’t seem to be aware of where the tortilla throwing tradition originated. Historically, throwing tortillas on the field has been reserved for UC Santa Barbara fans as a symbol of their mascot’s Argentinian heritage.

“The tortilla thing is a [UC Santa Barbara] tradition so I’m really not sure I have an understanding of why we have students that want to do that,” Oberhelman said. “Our traditions are better and different and I think we need to celebrate those and not take someone else’s.”

To Oberhelman’s dismay, hundreds of tortillas rained down from the Cal Poly student section on the UC Santa Barbara players and coaches while the starting lineups were being introduced just before kickoff.

“The tortillas and some of the derogatory chants, I wish we could do a better job,” Oberhelman said. “I think Mustangs are better than that, I think Cal Poly is better than that.”

Though the Mustangs will not be moving on to the postseason, the win serves as an important capstone for the seniors this season and a building block for the younger players on the team.

“We lose five very good seniors, but we have so many quality young players,” Sampson said. “The freshman and sophomore classes are exceptional. I think the future is bright for this program.”

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