CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Playing against the defending national champions on one of the nation’s biggest stages was no problem for Duke.
The No. 8 Blue Devils closed out the regular season on a high note, notching a 7-6 upset win against Tobacco Road rival No. 3 North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium. It was Duke’s leading scorer, junior attack Kerrin Maurer who scored the final and possibly most important goal of the regular season to give the Blue Devils a dramatic overtime victory.
The game was the first-ever women’s lacrosse game played at the football stadium, which seats 63,000 fans.
“To come here and play in Keenan against a great Carolina team and execute a game plan as well as they did was a great effort,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “Our kids kept fighting and executing. Our kids did a really good job considering we have been in [close] games in the last couple of weeks here that we have not come out on top. It is easy for them to be discouraged and they just kept fighting.”
Trailing 6-4 with a little more than 12 minutes to play, the Blue Devils (9-6, 3-4 in the ACC) found the net for the first time since the 10:17 mark in the first half when senior attack Sydney Peterson slid the ball into the net to cut the deficit to just one point.
Although Duke had a number of good looks on the goal in ensuing minutes, the Tar Heel defense held its ground, denying the Blue Devils the chance at a tying goal.
But with less than five minutes to play, Maurer drew in the defense and lofted a pass to Peterson who nailed the game-tying goal. Both teams had chances to score go-ahead goals in the final minutes, but neither could convert and the game headed to overtime.
The duo of Peterson and Maurer finished the game with three goals apiece, with Maurer boosting her team-leading season total to 47.
North Carolina (12-2, 5-1) dominated possession during the first overtime, but the Blue Devil defense held the nation’s top scoring offense scoreless in the first episode of extra time. The Tar Heels averaged more than 16 goals per game coming into last night’s matchup and were held to their lowest season-total since a 5-7 loss to Northwestern in March. Wednesday night marked only the second time all season they had been held to single-digits, something Kimel credited to the implementation of a less-aggressive gameplan on defense.
“We typically play a little bit more of an aggressive style defense, but tonight we were more conservative,” Kimel said. “That is out of respect for the great players that Carolina has. Teams that have been overly aggressive against them have paid dearly. We wanted to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to make plays, play good helping team defense and give our goalie a chance to make a save.”
In the second overtime, North Carolina won the opening draw and looked be in total control of the possession until Peterson forced a turnover that gave Duke an opportunity on the offensive end.
Kimel called a timeout seconds later and drew up a play to put the ball in the hands of her best offensive player.
Maurer took control of the ball and looked for teammates streaking toward the goal, but could not find anyone open. She then took matters into her own hands, cutting toward the right side of the goal and sent the ball past goalie Megan Ward with 26 seconds to go.
“We drew up a play,” Maurer said. “Our coaches gave us good play to execute. I was expecting someone to slide and no one slid to me. So I just had to pretty much just take the shot.”
The game was a repeat of last year’s overtime game in Durham, which North Carolina won 12-11. The bigger stage fueled the Blue Devils’ revenge, adding emphasis to the heated and exciting rivalry.
“The team on paper that is supposed to win doesn’t always win,” Kimel said. “That is what makes it special and that is what makes it fun. Our girls understand that it is a privilege to be part of such an awesome rivalry. Because of all the special things that come along with it, you can get finishes like this.”
The win is a relief to the team, who came into the contest with a two-game losing streak. Even though Duke has struggled against top 10 opponents this season—the Blue Devils were 0-4 prior to Wednesday night—they proved that they can emerge victorious against one of the nation’s top teams.
The team found that their own confidence and belief in themselves can fuel big-time performances that result in wins.
“We wanted it. We wanted it bad,” Maurer said. “Our coaches gave us a great game plan and we executed it well. [Coach] Kerstin [Kimel] told us before the game it was going to be who had the most heart and we had it.”
The printed version of this story incorrectly spelled Kimel's name. The Chronicle regrets the error.