SANTA BARBARA – Sophomore winger Justin Dhillon (right) scored twice to provide the Cal Poly men's soccer program a 2-0 lead at Blue-Green rival UC Santa Barbara, but in front of 14,345 spectators – the fifth largest regular season crowd figure in NCAA history – the Gauchos equalized inside 13 minutes midway through the second half to force a 2-2 draw with the Mustangs Friday evening.
Junior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton matched a season high with nine saves for Cal Poly (8-4-4, 3-2-2), which was outshot 30-10, but, through Dhillon's first goals since Sept. 5, 2014, the Mustangs stayed unbeaten against the rival Gauchos (7-6-3, 3-2-2) in four of the previous five matchups. The 2-2 draw marked the first stalemate between the two programs at Harder Stadium since drawing twice in 2008. Overall, 13 of the previous 15 matchups between the two sides have been decided by a single goal or drawn.
With the shared point, Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara improved to 11 points in the Big West Conference North Division standings to stay three points behind leader UC Davis (6-1-9, 4-1-2) with three matches remaining. UC Davis drew fourth-place Sacramento State (4-9-3, 2-4-1) earlier Saturday, 0-0.
In a series that has produced 13 of the top 36 regular season attendance figures in NCAA history, Saturday's 14,345-fan attendance figure superseded a Nov. 2, 2011 figure of 13,822 at Harder Stadium for fifth spot all-time.
On the field, Cal Poly snatched the early lead in the 14th minute as Dhillon took an upfield pass from freshman forward Kaba Alkebulan and slotted a shot past UC Santa Barbara freshman goalkeeper Brandon Berke inside the left post.
The Mustangs tested Berke just once more in the first half before doubling their lead on 52 minutes as Dhillon produced his third goal of 2014 with sophomore Jack O'Connor playing provider.
"It was great for Justin to score twice. He's been working hard on his finishing and he hadn't scored in a while so to get two tonight will be good for his confidence," interim head coach Phil Ruskin said.
UC Santa Barbara, however, hit back just 65 later as midfielder Andy Perez found forward Ludwig Ahl to halve Cal Poly's lead.
Thirteen minutes later, the Gauchos produced the equalizer as a pass from midfielder Nick DuPuy found midfielder Axel Mendez in the center of the penalty area. Mendez then fired past Hamilton at the right post the tie the match.
"A two-goal lead is the most dangerous in soccer. You feel like you have a cushion, but one goal can cause a big swing," Ruskin added. "We were disappointed that they scored so quickly, but we still scored two goals and could have got a third late on."
Cal Poly opens its final home stand of 2014 – a two-match stretch – on Wednesday, Oct. 29 against Sacramento State at 7 p.m. The Mustangs and Gauchos will then meet at Cal Poly's Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 2 at 5 p.m.