Former men’s soccer forward Chris Gaschen ended Cal Poly’s seven-game winless streak against UC Santa Barbara when he scored a golden goal in the 2010 installment of the Blue-Green Rivalry. The Mustangs have now won three straight in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The 8,125 fans packed into Alex G. Spanos Stadium on a chilly night in 2010 remember Chris Gaschen’s right-footed dart that buried itself in the top corner of the net and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
But he doesn’t.
“The thing I remember the most was the moment after the goal,” Gaschen said. “I remember being mobbed, but in all honesty, I don’t remember striking the ball at all.”
Immortalized in a YouTube video, a giddy head coach Paul Holocher led the charge from the sidelines to mob Gaschen on the field. He was soon joined by students pouring onto the field in spontaneous jubilation.
“It was just exciting,” Gaschen said. “I was like, ‘That’s a lot of people.’”
But, unnoticed by the commotion, he slipped away from the celebration to collect his breath and walked past streams of revelers that failed to notice the 5-foot-6 forward who had just changed Cal Poly soccer forever.
“In the moment, I didn’t really care if I got recognition, because it wasn’t about me,” he said. “But for the next few months, people would come up to me and say ‘Hey, great goal.’”
Recently, a student stopped Gaschen and said the reason he came to Cal Poly was the atmosphere he saw while watching Gaschen’s strike and the ensuing celebration on television.
Still, Gaschen wasn’t done torturing the Gauchos.
In the three years since his goal, the men’s soccer game against UC Santa Barbara has been named the best rivalry in college soccer and Spanos Stadium has sagged under the weight of a sellout crowd each time the Gauchos came to town.
In 2011, the Big West Conference moved the rivalry game from its traditional Wednesday night slot — which had forced students to sprint down the hill after finishing midterms to attend — to a more fan-friendly Friday night matchup. The program was rewarded with its first sellout since a 1-0 loss to UC Santa Barbara in 2008.
The energy piercing through the stands that night in 2011 was quickly zapped by the Gauchos when Sam Garza netted a goal to put UC Santa Barbara ahead in the 12th minute. Then Cal Poly’s senior leftback Wes Feighner suffered a knee injury and was forced to the sideline in the 30th minute.
For more than an hour, the Mustangs desperately searched for a goal that looked as if it might never come. That was, until Cal Poly earned a corner kick in the 79th minute. Kyle Montgomery flung the ball into the box where Cameron Walters met it with a vicious header that tied the game.
Gaschen, who had received an elbow from a Gaucho defender when Walters netted the equalizer, was on the sideline as his bloodied face was stitched up.
Returning to the field with less than 10 minutes to go, Gaschen found himself in a familiar situation — over the ball in the attacking zone with the game on the line.
“He made a couple people dive in and at the last minute he passed the ball off to Kyle,” then-center back Patrick Sigler said. “It was a great pass because he drew a defender in, which gave Kyle the opportunity to run at the last guy. … He beat the guy and the guy took him out.”
The referee raised his hand and pointed to the spot.
The coaching staff looked to the only man who would ever take a penalty in that situation: Sigler.
“They got up and pointed directly at me; they didn’t really say anything,” Sigler said. “I just nodded my head and didn’t talk to anyone as I went up.”
He picked his location and walked into the box in front of 11,075 onlookers.
“I hit my spot and the party was on,” he said.
The photo of Sigler running toward the sidelines with his arms raised like an airplane is now immortalized in a banner on campus.
“At the end of the day, it was like, ‘Did we really just come back in the last five minutes and win?’” Gaschen said. “It was sick.”
The following year, the Gauchos came back to San Luis Obispo sensing the rivalry might be slipping away from them. For the first time in 14 years the Mustangs had gone into Goleta and defeated UC Santa Barbara using an equalizer from forward George Malki with a minute to go and a game-winner from Mackenzie Pridham to steal a win on the road.
The last time UC Santa Barbara won in San Luis Obispo was 2008.
In 2012, the game was deadlocked late, a familiar place for the two teams. Only one game in the past four years had been decided by more than a goal.
“It was a back and forth game, like they always are,” Malki said. “One team has momentum, then the other team takes it away.”
As the Gauchos began to pressure the ball in the 76th minute, center back Nolan Moore spotted Gaschen open upfield. Moore chipped the ball to Gaschen, but he was too close to the goalkeeper to place a shot on the frame and instead blasted the ball into the keeper, who couldn’t hang on.
“I was making a diagonal run from the right side and the ball just popped loose right to me,” Malki said.
He took a touch, then placed the ball gently into the far corner.
“And after that, it was the most unreal feeling I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “Unreal is the word; it was euphoria. I was on a high.”
The team closed out the final 15 minutes and sent fans on the field for the third consecutive year. It marked the first time since 1997 that Cal Poly had defeated UC Santa Barbara twice in the same year.
Now with Sigler and Gaschen lost to graduation, Malki, senior defender Connor Drechsler and senior forward Chris Bernardi are the only players left who mobbed Gaschen after his wonder-strike in 2010.
But that doesn’t mean Gaschen’s advice can’t live on.
“Whatever works to get the goal,” he said.