No. 6 Duke began its season with a loss to No. 9 Denver, and followed that up Sunday by giving up a goal in the opening minute to Jacksonville.
But the Blue Devils moved swiftly to rebound and defeat the Dolphins 21-9 Sunday afternoon after falling 14-12 to the Pioneers Saturday at Koskinen Stadium.
“We saw [the Jacksonville game] as a bounce-back kind of thing,” Duke freshman Case Matheis said. “We knew we played well against Denver, but we knew we could play better lacrosse, and we played a better overall team game [against Jacksonville].”
The Blue Devils (1-1) won the shot, ground-ball and face-off battles against the Pioneers and headed into the locker room with an 8-5 lead, but they were done in by Denver’s 9-0 run in the second half. After the start of the third period, the game quickly fell out of the hands of the Blue Devils, who racked up five penalties in the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the second half. Two of the Pioneers’ goals during that span were off rebounds.
“Denver certainly outplayed us,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “Statistically we did a lot of really good things, but they executed better and made big plays. They did a good job, and we did not.”
The Pioneers (1-0) held the Blue Devils scoreless for the first 23:08 of the second half, claiming a 14-8 lead during that time. Duke mounted a four-goal rally in the fourth quarter, but it could not overcome Denver’s second-half rally.
Pioneer sophomore Eric Adamson, who scored five goals all of last season, notched five tallies in Saturday’s upset. The attackman contributed four goals to the Pioneers’ nine-goal scoring run. Highly-touted freshman Gordie Koerber, ranked No. 31 in Inside Lacrosse Power’s Top 100 Freshmen, added three goals for Denver.
The Blue Devils were led by juniors Jordan Wolf and Christian Walsh, who scored four and three goals, respectively. Denver sophomore Ryan LaPlante recorded a career-high 18 saves in the win. The goaltender made 16 saves—his previous career high—last year in the Pioneers’ victory against Duke in the final game of the regular season.
Duke’s loss to Denver marked its first season-opening defeat since 1998.
A day after falling to the Pioneers, the Blue Devils took on Jacksonville (0-1), which lost to Duke 16-7 last season.
“We knew that we had to bounce back and play really hard,” Matheis said. “It was a great team effort. We had a lot of guys score the first goals of their careers today.”
Matheis, the top-ranked recruit in the nation, was one of those guys, earning the first points of his collegiate career with a goal and two assists. Fourteen other Blue Devils found the back of the net.
“I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that had 15 different players score in one game,” Danowski said.
The Duke midfield accounted for more than half of the team’s goals. Its contribution to goal-scoring depends on if the opposing team’s defense slides off the attackmen or slides late to the midfielders, Danowski said. He added that much of the scoring against Jacksonville occurred via 6-on-6, in-the-box sets.
“While we did get some goals in transition, a lot of it was in the box, so we thought that our middies just were in the right spots,” he said. “Guys were unselfish, guys were making the extra pass, and people were finishing the ball today.”
In addition to exhibiting a balanced scoring effort, Duke played organized team defense against the Dolphins. The Blue Devils allowed Denver to score goals from the restart—sets from behind the cage after the ball went out of bounds. In a stronger defensive effort Sunday afternoon, Duke did not let Jacksonville notch restart tallies.
The Blue Devils hope to build off the momentum of Sunday afternoon’s success as they prepare to face No. 3 Notre Dame next weekend.