Leg two of the 2022 Blue-Green Rivalry ended in a 1-1 draw on Saturday, October 22, at UC Santa Barbara’s Harder Stadium, eliminating Cal Poly men’s soccer from playoff contention.
The Mustangs were three minutes away from the win as they held a 1-0 lead thanks to sophomore Noah Boettiger’s goal in the 79th minute. However, a game dominated by UCSB’s attacking push finally paid off as a long crosser pinballed inside the box, eventually finding the foot of Finn Ballard McBride, who equalized in the 87th minute.
“We haven’t won here in a long time,” Boettiger said. “And unfortunately, we couldn’t close it out. But I mean, the boys worked really hard. We fought the entire game and left everything out on the field.”
It was Deja Vu for the Mustangs, as during leg one of the rivalry, Cal Poly equalized the game with less than five minutes to play just to see UCSB’s scrambled push for a winner come to fruition in the 89th minute.
In a week where head coach Steve Sampson retired and playoff implications were front and center, not being able to hold on left many Cal Poly players hurting on the sidelines.
“You know they dug in and fought hard,” interim head coach Billy McNicol said. “They played for one another, they played for the school and most importantly, they played to the plan we gave them almost to a tee.”
Cal Poly (1-11-4, 1-3-4) has not won at Harder Stadium in over 10 years, as the Gauchos (9-2-5, 4-0-3) stayed on top of the Big West standings in their quest for back-to-back regular season championships.
UCSB held possession inside Cal Poly’s final third from start to finish. Less than a minute into the game, the Gauchos had already threatened to score and drew a corner kick, an indication that they would be able to move the ball up the pitch regularly.
Cal Poly accepted this notion, not shying away from defending inside its box.
“I’m going to set up a position, you have to unlock it, and you can call it ‘park the bus’ or call it ‘behind the button,’ whatever you want,” McNicol said. “We scored first. If you don’t put bodies into the box, you’re not going to score goals, and [UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg] wasn’t prepared to do anymore. And I said, okay, we’re delighted with this. The game almost played out to a tee.”
In the 25th minute, McBride hit the crossbar, the first time the Gauchos put a ball directly on the net. 10 minutes later, Caden Vom Steeg had a similar chance and result, barely grazing the top of the bar.
It was chance after chance for the Gauchos, yet the Cal Poly defense held strong.
Sophomore defender Connor Leber stood out, preventing runs and defending one-on-one plays against many Gauchos. However, it was difficult for the Cal Poly defense to clear the ball with any real purpose.
The half ended with a Gaucho free kick that found an attacker’s head at the back post, but it was saved by sophomore goalkeeper Gabe Penner, leading to a first-half result that satisfied Cal Poly at 0-0.
The second half started immediately with the same style of play. In the 49th minute, UCSB’s Thaabit Baartman wiped a far-post header that barely grazed the bar and earned a corner kick a minute later.
UC Santa Barbara had 13 corners to Cal Poly’s zero in the match.
In the 59th minute, Penner dove to his left and saved a well-placed header that would have surely broken the deadlock.
Penner was the story of the second half for the Mustangs, recording four saves and maintaining a dominating box presence, clearing balls and moving off his spot to stop runs.
In the 66th minute, UCSB’s mounting attack crossed a ball into the box and Penner made the initial stop, but the rebound ricocheted until the ball shot right back into his outstretched arms. It was the best chance for the Gauchos and should have been a goal if it wasn’t for Penner.
Only countering with long clearing balls that would end up right back in the box, Cal Poly was playing on their back heels the entire half until the 79th minute, where one of those wishful clearances found Boettiger running free at goal.
A misplay from the Gaucho defender opened the door for the Mustangs to finally get the counter-attack they were looking for. The initial shot was saved, but Boettiger got his rebound and silenced the over 8,000 Gaucho fans, and gave Cal Poly a 1-0 lead.
“I mean, that moment was just surreal,” Boettiger said.
There seemed to be a shift in confidence from the Mustangs, who began pushing forward and trying to create the deadly two-goal lead. After a couple of chances, however, the Gauchos were right back to control possession, this time with much more recklessness.
The reckless scramble of attacking soccer paid off in the 87th minute as it drew Cal Poly into positions that broke the shape that had held strong up to that point.
McBride did not hit the bar this time, only the back of the net, as the rowdy Gaucho student section broke their silence and the celebratory tortillas rained down.
Neither team could break the tie for the remaining three minutes, ending the match at 1-1.
“It’s a very positive step,” Boettiger said. “I think we can definitely build off this team’s high standards right now, and I think it should be good.”
With the draw, Cal Poly is now eliminated from Big West playoff contention.
“I come for the wins every game,” McNicol said. “I feel bad that the kids are now eliminated from the playoffs. These boys have all shown that they’re worth their weight in gold to the school and are willing to fight for Cal Poly. They showed what character is.”
The Mustangs will host CSU Bakersfield at home in Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. for the final game of the season.