UCSB sophomore Nic Ryan came through with the biggest goal of his life on Wednesday, sending UCSB to the Big West Conference’s championship match after his golden goal in the 98th minute gave the Gauchos a thrilling 2-1 victory over Cal Poly at Harder Stadium.
Ryan’s score, which was created by a hustling Josue Madueno, completed a come-from-behind victory that was the third 2-1 decision between the two teams this season.
“It’s definitely something you dream about,” Ryan said after the game while sharing the field with hundreds of fans who stormed the field. ”Having this game be so important to us and we knew we had to win it to stay alive in the playoffs. It was special.”
Ryan’s goal is all the more remarkable considering how much time it took him to find the back of the net. Ryan entered the game as a substitution in the overtime period and was on the field all of 45 seconds before making the difference.
“Well, it was a good sub wasn’t it?” said a relieved Gauchos head coach Tim Vom Steeg.
Ryan just so happens to be friends with Cal Poly’s Chris Gaschen, who provided the Mustangs with their game winner when Cal Poly defeated UCSB 2-1 in their last meeting leading up to the tournament.
The two met on the field after Ryan had finished celebrating his goal withmost of the 4084 in attendance.
“Last game when we were down in Cal Poly he scored the game winner against us so I just let him know we got him back,” Ryan said.
The Gauchos (12-4-3) received more good news after the game, as they learned that regular-season Big West champion UC Irvine suffered a 2-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton. The surprise result gives the Gauchos the home field in the championship match on Saturday against the Titans.
“We’re excited about the fact that Irvine lost. There’s very little love lost any way there,” Vom Steeg said, adding that staying home might be the key UCSB needs to win its first Conference Tournament title in what will be its third try.
Cal Poly took a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute on a Chris Bernardi score. Bernardi cleaned up on a corner kick that ricocheted to the far post off the head of Cameron Walters.
The Mustangs held on to the lead in the first half despite getting outshot by the Gauchos 8-7 in the first 45 minutes.
“Again, we were just having such trouble finishing again tonight,” Vom Steeg said, acknowledging that converting goals has been a problem for UCSB this season. “We broke in so many times. Even the first ten minutes of the game we could have been up a couple of goals.”
David Opoku was the one that broke the ice for UCSB, finally netting a goal for UCSB in the 72 minute. Opoku made a perfectly timed run to get behind the defense and receive a pass from Michael Tetteh, and then beat Mustangs keeper Patrick McLain in a 1-on-1 situation for the equalizer.
It was Opoku’s sixth goal of the season. Sam Garza has the team lead with nine.