IRVINE — UC Irvine senior Miguel Ibarra stood two steps outside the post-game huddle of Anteaters, coughing uncontrollably into one sweat-drenched sleeve, then the other.
It was a cold-stricken Ibarra, shifted from midfield to forward about 12 minutes into the second half of a Big West Conference men's soccer home game against Cal State Northridge on Saturday, who proved to be the best medicine for a somewhat sluggish attack for the hosts.
Ibarra scored one goal and generated another to help No. 7-ranked UCI earn a 2-0 triumph to take sole possession of first place in what figures to be a balanced and potent conference.
The win was the third straight for UCI (11-2, 3-1 in conference), which had lost two of three before beginning its recent roll against conference competition at UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 1.
The 'Eaters' victory also halted a three-game winning streak by the Matadors (5-5-1, 2-1), who had outscored opponents, 9-0, during the run.
"I thought we dominated possession against a good possession team that has been hot, very hot," UCI Coach George Kuntz said. "We've been working the last three weeks on closing down spaces [for opposing attackers] and we did a good job of that tonight. I think we played better and we kept the shutout."
Kuntz said Ibarra, who now has five goals and five assists to lead the team with 15 points (two points for a goal and one for an assist) was, as usual, a difference-maker, first at midfield, then up top.
"Wherever you put Miguel Ibarra, he dominates," Kuntz said of the 5-foot-7, 135-pound firefly who was responsible for the game's first goal when his cross caromed off Northridge defender Luis Gutierrez into the net for an own-goal in the 58th minute. "I wish I had seven of him, because he's so quick, so quick to the ball and so quick at reading. Wherever we need help and guys are dropping, fitness-wise, he goes. His cardio is beyond imagination. And he was sick tonight."
Ibarra contributed to the Matadors' sinking feeling in the final minute, clinching the victory by punching in a rebound. The final goal was initiated when freshman Victor Calderon sent a cross into the six-yard area that went off a defender and onto the foot of Ibarra just inside the far post.
"We needed the three points tonight," said Ibarra, after those three points (for a win) gave UCI nine points, three more than the second-place tandem of Northridge and UC Davis. "When we came out for the second half, all we wanted was that first goal to get us going, and we got it."
Meanwhile, senior goalkeeper Andrew Fontein made 11 saves to complete his fifth shutout of the season, extending his school-career-record to 25 shutouts.
"Andrew was solid," Kuntz said. "He was in the right place all night."
Fontein has given up just two goals in four league contests, one of which should have been determined an own-goal and the other coming on a penalty kick.
The back line of seniors Jonathan Rivas and Bello Alhassan, junior returning starter Everett Pitts, and sophomore Marco Franco, helped frustrate the visitors, for whom 10 players have scored this season.
Seniors Christian Hernandez and Jimmy Turner, sophomores Christopher Tarek Morad and Christopher Santana, as well as Ibarra helped create an edge in the midfield for the winners, who in four days avenged late-season losses to Northridge and Cal State Fullerton that helped cost the team an at-large bid into the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
UCI finished with 14 shots, one more than the Matadors, whose 17 fouls were two more than UCI committed.
Northridge goalkeeper Michael Abalos made five saves.
For a second straight game, UCI played without sophomore Enrique Cardenas (five goals and two assists), whose bruised left knee is not expected to keep him on the sideline next week, Kuntz said.
UCI will attempt to keep it rolling when it visits UC Riverside on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. conference encounter.
The Anteaters also venture to Omaha, Neb. to meet No. 5-ranked Creighton on Saturday.
"Today was one of our best games," Ibarra said. "But we have to keep it going. We can't get complacent and we have to keep working hard."