For 88 minutes on Friday night, the Cal Poly men’s soccer team looked like it would be dealt yet another road loss to rival UC Santa Barbara.
But then, lightning struck — twice.
Down by one in the 89th minute, the Mustangs got the tying goal with 66 seconds left in the game when junior midfielder George Malki rifled home an open rebound to send the match into overtime. Junior forward Mackenzie Pridham then found the game-winning goal just six minutes into the extra period with a shot to the far post to electrify the Cal Poly fans on hand and send the Mustangs (9-5-1, 3-2-1 Big West Conference) to their first win at Harder Stadium since 1998 with a 2-1 overtime victory.
“We’ve been here so many times and been second best,” seventh-year head coach Paul Holocher said. “I don’t know what it is, if it’s a monkey on your back, or if it’s just the feeling that you get in here when (UC Santa Barbara) wins. Our guys refused to have that feeling tonight.”
Bolstered by another record crowd (13,467) for the rivalry match — the seventh-largest in NCAA soccer regular season history — Malki netted the equalizer when UC Santa Barbara freshman goalkeeper Austin Mansker came off his line to challenge Pridham, but got tied up and sent a rebound to the right side of the 18-yard box where Malki slotted the opportunity home.
“I had a couple chances in the last seven minutes and missed them both,” Malki said. “I said, ‘I got to make up for it,’ and I saw the ball squirt loose at the top of the box and I went after it, put my body in line and just buried it.”
After also seeing several missed chances throughout regulation, including a missed header in front of an empty net with less than 15 minutes to go, Pridham finally got on the score sheet in dramatic fashion with his 96th-minute strike. Senior midfielder Chris Gaschen provided the give-and-go assist after entering the game as a substitute just a minute earlier. The assist was Gaschen’s fifth of the year.
For Pridham — the team leader with nine on the season — the goal was more than just a winner.
“We weren’t playing for the ‘W,’ we were playing for the love of our team and how much work we’ve been putting in for each other,” he said.
UC Santa Barbara controlled many of the possessions and attacking opportunities through the first 90 minutes, outshooting the Mustangs 24-10 heading into extra time. But Cal Poly found the spark it needed with Malki’s late goal and carried that momentum to overtime where the Mustangs controlled the run of play.
“They would not be denied today,” Holocher said of his team. “In that overtime, there was only one team that was gonna score and they kept their poise, kept playing great soccer.”
The Gauchos broke the match open when midfielder Nic Ryan headed home a pinpoint cross from forward Ema Boateng in the 75th minute to give UC Santa Barbara a 1-0 lead. From there, Cal Poly found its legs to win in come-from-behind fashion.
Despite seeing less of the offensive third than in previous matches this season, the Mustangs were not without opportunities on the night.
Junior forward Chris Bernardi was whistled offside with two minutes to go in the first half after sending a point-blank shot to the back of the net, while Malki saw a shot go high just five minutes before his equalizer.
The Mustangs return to action when they host Sacramento State on Oct. 27 in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.