Although it looked like a rugby match at times, the Blue Devils prevailed in a physical and chippy contest featuring no shortage of excitement at No. 11 Syracuse.

It was yet another memorable night for Duke head coach John Kerr and his team, as the Blue Devils earned their first ranked win of an impressive season thus far with a 2-1 victory at SU Soccer Stadium. Duke withstood a flurry of chances for the Orange, which outshot the Blue Devils 13-4, thanks to four saves by freshman goalkeeper Will Pulisic.

“I was really proud of the boys tonight and the way we fought through the entire game. Markus [Fjørtoft] was huge for us in the air, winning a lot of head balls, and then Kevon Black and Carter Manley were there to clear anything else away,” Kerr told GoDuke.com. “We dropped our line back a bit against them, and it worked out well for us.”

Duke (6-1-1, 2-1-0 in the ACC) opened up the scoring in the 36th minute when Brian White notched his fifth goal of the season following a cross from freshman Daniel Wright. A failed clearance and a bit of kickball left the ball right at White’s chest, and he pounded it through after a brilliant first touch.

“We didn’t get a lot of chances, but we made the most of the ones we did,” Kerr said. “Brian did a great job of staying calm and had a nice left-footed finish.”

Although the first half concluded with a 1-0 Blue Devil lead, Syracuse (4-3-2, 0-2-1) was constantly knocking on the door and largely controlled the pace of play. In the 18th minute, it looked as though speedy forward Tajon Buchanan would put the Orange on top when he broke through the Duke back line for an early one-on-one opportunity, only to be denied by an incredible save from Pulisic. A loose ball rolled back toward Buchanan seconds later before Blue Devil senior Markus Fjørtoft cleared it away.

“He came off his line and made himself big, and that really kept us in the game instead of us going down 1-0 early,” Kerr said. “Will was excellent tonight for us, and that first-half save was huge.”

The match had no shortage of physicality as well, including a dangerous tackle from Syracuse striker Petter Strangeland that knocked Kevon Black to the turf. Duke’s Brandon Williamson and the Orange’s Johannes Pieles both had yellow cards to their names by the end of the night. 

An impressive effort from the Duke defense preserved the lead after a barrage of Syracuse opportunities late in the first half. In the 43rd minute, Sondre Norheim connected on a dangerous header that flew just off frame, and John-Austin Ricks sent a stunning ball across the face of the goal that the Orange could not get a foot on just before the break. 

Syracuse then picked up where it left off early in the second half with a multitude of threatening sequences, including an ambitious effort from Lukas Rubio that nearly tied up the score. 

Moments later though, Duke flipped the script to double its lead, as Max Moser sent a dazzling ball into the box that Fjørtoft tapped into the net to give the Blue Devils some much-needed insurance. 

Syracuse continued to press forward with hordes of crosses into the box, one of which found the head of Ricks in the 65th minute but resulted in another one-handed save by Pulisic. But the Orange were finally able to find a breakthrough when midfielder Jonathan Hagman pounded the back of the net with 12:26 remaining in what appeared to be a turning point.

But the waning minutes of the match saw Duke’s defense come up big, sniffing out every Syracuse opportunity in front of a lively crowd with the Orange rallying for an equalizer. Cody Brinkman came up with a crucial clearance with just 20 seconds remaining to keep the score at 2-1. 

After a final shot of desperation sailed over the crossbar, the Blue Devils escaped with a second ACC win and a strong NCAA tournament resume midway through the regular season—Duke has not played in the tournament since 2011. 

Kerr’s squad will look to keep rolling against Appalachian State at Koskinen Stadium Tuesday night.

““It’s always great to get an ACC victory on the road, and this puts us in a good spot in our division,” Kerr said. “There have been times in the past where we’ve gotten a big win and then let a Tuesday night game trip us up, and I reminded them of that tonight, so we have to go out and take care of business.”