SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UC Davis entered Wednesday night with 14 points in conference play, a first-place standing in the Big West North, and a clear game plan to escape from Harder Stadium with a draw. Well, UCSB's sophomore forward Nick DePuy wasn't having it, as the 6-4 point man scored off an overtime cross from Ismaila Jome in the 99th minute to give the Gauchos a 1-0 win, the full three points, and a tie atop the division standings with the Aggies.
"I was really impressed by the way our team stay focused on creating chances and not getting frustrated by [UC Davis] putting nine guys behind the ball and preventing some of our scoring chances from going in," said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "The coaching staff knew that Nick was going to be able to come through for us, and he eventually did. What a night."
Though DePuy will be remembered as the hero of the match, a number of Gauchos played key roles in the game winner.
Sophomore midfielder Drew Murphy got the play going, collecting the ball deep in UCSB (8-6-3, 4-2-2) territory and playing a long switch ball to freshman holding midfielder Ryo Fujii, who settled the airborne pass nicely before laying a pass down the left wing for an overlapping Jome. The speedy left back then rolled a low cross to the far post for DePuy, who got in good position before striking the pass first-touch to the top shelf with a right-footed shot.
The Irvine, Calif. native is showing he has a flair for the dramatic, as just a few weeks earlier he scored on a 35-yard curler with under 40 seconds left in regulation to beat then-No. 3 UC Irvine.
His team-leading sixth goal of the season was a relief to the Gauchos, who had spent the majority of the night probing the Aggies defense looking for a weak spot.
Having held UCSB off the board in regulation, UC Davis (6-2-9, 4-2-2) reached overtime for an NCAA-record 12th time on Wednesday. The team's nine draws entering the night is tied for an NCAA record as well.
After an uneventful – there were exactly zero stoppages – first half that saw the two teams combine for five shots, none of which were on frame, the Gauchos came back in the second half with a renewed resolve to find the back of the net. UCSB ended up outshooting UC Davis 16-2 after the halftime break. In fact, the Aggies didn't record a shot on goal the entire match, the first time a UCSB opponent has failed to do so this season.
Murphy and DePuy both had a number of dangerous chances during the extended period of possession dominance.
In the 55th minute, Murphy had a fiercely struck, goal-bound 20-yard volley deflected before being pushed away by the keeper. The midfielder then had a header cleared off the line by the Aggies defense in the waning minutes of regulation.
DePuy had a whopping nine shots in the contest, by far the most by a Gaucho this season (previous high was six by Axel Mendez, set in the last game vs. Cal Poly). He had a couple of headers go just over the bar, and had a great look at net with three minutes left in the second half, but UCD keeper Armando Quezada (four saves) came up with the stop.
Fujii had the best offensive day of his young career as well. The usually defensive-minded midfielder recorded his first career point with an assist on the golden goal and came close to his first goal as well with an 87th minute shot that Quezada just got a touch on for the save.
UCSB freshman keeper Brandon Berke recorded his third shutout of the season in the win and should be plenty rested for the team's two remaining games in the regular season.
The Gauchos can clinch a spot in the Big West Tournament as soon as this Sunday, when they travel to Cal Poly for the second half of the annual Blue-Green series. The crowded North Division has just four points seperating the top teams (UCSB and UC Davis, 14 points) from the bottom (Sacramento State, 10 points).