SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Just four days after putting the Gauchos into the driver's seat for a division title with an overtime golden goal against UC Davis, sophomore UCSB forward Nick DePuy continued his white-hot form on Sunday evening, recording a brace against Cal Poly to clinch a Big West North championship for the Gauchos in a 2-0 win over the Mustangs in front of a sold-out crowd of 11,075 at Spanos Stadium.
With just one game remaining in the regular season, the Gauchos sport a 9-6-3 record with a 5-2-2 (17 points) mark in conference play.
UC Davis (14 conference points) are the only team in the division who can catch UCSB, but the Gauchos own the third tiebreaker over the Aggies with a 2-1 advantage in intra-division goals for (first and second tiebreakers are head-to-head win-loss and head-to-head goal differential, in which UCSB and UC Davis are level).
The Mustangs dropped to 8-6-4, 3-4-2 with the loss and must record a win in their final contest to avoid missing the Big West Tournament.
Along with the division title, the Gauchos have clinched a bye in the first round of the Big West Tournament as well as home field advantage throughout. That bodes well for Tim Vom Steeg's squad, as they have gone 7-1-2 at Harder Stadium this season. It also marks the 12th time in the past 13 seasons that the Gauchos have reached the postseason.
The Cal Poly athletic department announced a sellout for tonight's match back on Friday, a full 48 hours before kickoff. Undeterred, DePuy silenced the raucous crowd in just the seventh minute of the match with his first goal.
Receiving a ball over the top, freshman forward Ludwig Ahl flicked a pass into the path of DePuy, who unleashed a 15-yard shot to the near left post and past Cal Poly keeper Wade Hamilton. That tally would eventually hold up as the game-winner.
The Irvine, Calif. native then collected his second goal of the night and team-leading eighth of the season in the 22nd minute.
Proving he is a dual threat on the ground and in the air, DePuy got on the end of an Ahl cross with a 10-foot header to put the Gauchos up by a pair.
The brace for DePuy, the first of his career, gave him seven goals in 11 appearances since moving from midfield to forward. Ahl's pair of helpers doubled his season assist total from two to four.
Now up by two and having met the requisite number of goals for the tiebreaker, UCSB had to prevent Cal Poly from doing what the Gauchos had done in the first leg of this year's Blue-Green series: come back from an early two-goal deficit.
The UCSB defense – led by a center back pairing off Duncan Backus and Jeff Quezada – did exactly that, holding the Mustangs offense to just two shots on goal from open play. This defensive dominance came despite UCSB being dealt two potentially big blows, a 73rd minute red card to sophomore forward Armand Bagramyan and a 86th minute penalty decision awarded to the home team.
The Gauchos stepped up their game as a unit in response to these two road blocks. In the final 27 minutes of the match, Cal Poly only posted four shots, none of which were on frame, against 10-man UCSB.
Then in the waning minutes of the match, freshman UCSB keeper Brandon Berke guessed correctly and dove to his left to keep out Matt LaGrassa's penalty effort.
The stop was one of three saves for Berke (7-3-2) on the day, giving him two consecutive and four overall shutouts. It was the first time this season that UCSB recorded back-to-back shutouts.
The sellout crowd at Spanos was yet another record draw for the Blue-Green series. Since the start of the 2012 season, the six UCSB-Cal Poly matchups have been the six highest draws in the NCAA, including all matches in the NCAA tournament. In Division I men's soccer history, UCSB-Cal Poly matchups make up 10 of the 14 highest attended regular season, on-campus crowds of all-time while the Gauchos have been either the home or the away team for 16 of the top 17 regular-season, on-campus draws of all time.
UCSB wraps up the regular season on Wednesday as they travel to Sacramento State for a tilt with the Hornets. The Gauchos will then await the winner of the Big West Tournament Quarterfinals as they host the Semifinals on Wednesday. Nov. 12.