For the first time all season, the No. 11 Blue Devils found themselves playing catch-up. And for most of the second half, it looked as though Duke would suffer its first loss since falling in overtime to then-No. 6 North Carolina in Cary, N.C., more than three weeks ago.
But with just nine minutes remaining, the Blue Devils put up a pair of stunning goals in quick succession to clinch their their seventh straight win and head into conference play on a high note.
Duke dealt No. 21 Utah a 2-1 loss Monday night at Koskinen Stadium, adding another win against a ranked opponent to their already impressive nonconference resume. Junior striker Kayla McCoy broke through for the Blue Devils in the 82nd minute for her third goal in two games and her fifth of the season, and redshirt senior Rebecca Quinn connected on a shot from 25 yards out just 45 seconds later to give Duke the win.
“This is really just a big-time win,” head coach Robbie Church said. “This was the first time we’ve been behind all year. The chances were there, but it was just about being able to break through.”
The Blue Devils (7-1-0) struggled to find the back of the net from the start, but not for lack of opportunity. Just two minutes into the contest, Quinn chipped the ball over the Utes’ back line for McCoy, who blasted a shot just over the crossbar. Junior Taylor Racioppi put a ball on goal from inside the box six minutes later, but Utah goalkeeper Carly Nelson managed to block the shot.
Duke had a number of promising combinations up the field throughout the half, but struggled to get strong looks in the attacking third. The Blue Devils would go on to post three more shots and a corner kick before the Utes sent anything toward senior netminder EJ Proctor.
“We had so many chances, but we just couldn’t put it in,” Quinn said. “To be quite frank, I think the whole game, [the offense] was building. Our build-up game was great the entire game. It was just a matter of time.”
It was more of the same for Duke at the start of the second half. Senior captain Imani Dorsey had a shot on goal two minutes in, and Quinn followed it up with a promising corner kick. But Utah (4-2-1) quickly brought the ball into its own offensive third from there, catching the Blue Devil defense on its heels and slicing into the 18-yard box.
Ute sophomore Holly Daugirda threaded the needle to find junior Paola Van der Veen, who sent the ball into the left side of the net and past a diving Proctor on one touch from the center of the box.
“When they scored, it was disappointing because we had just had a point-blank shot on our end,” Church said. “We started to wonder if this could be one of those [games] where you’re the better team and you’re dominating, but you just don’t get the win. But we stayed with it.”
Duke upped its offensive tempo from there, ripping two shots and a corner kick in the six minutes after Utah’s goal. Dorsey had an open-net opportunity in the 65th minute, but took one too many touches and allowed the Utes' defense to catch up and make a tackle just in front of the goal.
The Blue Devils finally connected with 8:49 left on the clock. Freshman defender Taylor Mitchell sent a cross sailing into the box, and McCoy headed it past Nelson and into the left-side netting to put Duke on the board. Although the Lincolnwood, Ill., native scored the Blue Devils’ third and fourth goals against No. 3 West Virginia in their 4-0 rout Friday night, Monday’s goal was her most important of the season thus far.
“The chances were there, but we just were not able to break through until Kayla’s score,” Church said. “She’s a goal scorer, and that’s why she’s in there. She’s going to score those goals.”
With the score drawn at one, Duke looked reenergized and eager to push the offense for the remainder of the game. Before Utah could even find its footing, the Blue Devils were back on the attack and streaking up the field.
Quinn received a quick pass on the left flank, then turned and weaved through the Utes’ defense into the center of the field. The Toronto native launched a rocket from 25 yards out that bent past Nelson and into the back of the net.
“I had been feeding it to the forwards a bunch and then I thought I might as well have a go,” Quinn said. “You don’t get many of those at holding mid, so I figured I might as well take one and see if I could catch the goalie sleeping. Every once in a while I pull that out of my pocket.”
With conference play beginning this weekend, Duke will need to carry this momentum through the week and into its Sunday matchup with Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils recognize the strength of their nonconference resume and are looking to extend that success into their ACC schedule.
“We have an outstanding resume, but we know the ACC is a different animal, and that’s starting on Sunday,” Church said. “We’ll be ready. It’s really important that you start well in the ACC.”