When senior David Lawson scored the game’s opening goal to give Duke a 1-0 lead against rival Virginia just 49 seconds into the contest, the Blue Devil bench erupted into celebration. Little did they know, Lawson’s strike opened the floodgates for an offensive barrage for both teams.
Thanks to a seven-goal run in the fourth quarter, the No. 8 Blue Devils (10-4, 2-1 in the ACC) came away with a 19-16 comeback victory Friday night at Koskinen Stadium to extend their winning streak to eight games.
The game was the highest-scoring contest between the two teams in their 77 meetings since 1938. When the dust settled, the Blue Devils and Virginia combined for 35 goals and 95 shots on the evening.
“Not only ACC games, but especially Virginia, it’s one of those kind of things where everything else in the world goes out the window,” junior attack Josh Dionne said. “At the end of the day—our records, their records—nothing really matters when we play them. It’s just like a war, and at the end of the 60 minutes, you look at the board and see what happened.”
The first half had no shortage of action. Seemingly every time a player wound up to take a shot, it found the back of the net, and each time Duke scored a goal the Cavaliers had an answer. The Blue Devils held the upper hand throughout the first half but could only extend their lead to three goals before a Virginia (5-7, 0-3) run to end the half sent both teams into the locker room with the score tied at 9-9.
When the teams emerged for the second half, the Cavaliers seized the momentum with an early goal from junior attacker Mark Cockerton—who led all scorers with six goals on the evening—less than a minute into the third quarter. Virginia’s shift to a zone defensive scheme held the Blue Devil offense silent for the first time all evening, and the Cavaliers added three more goals, including two from Cockerton, to take a 13-9 lead.
When Duke head coach John Danowski called a timeout to rally his troops, his team’s six-week winning streak hung dangerously in the balance.
“We recognized that we needed to talk to the guys a little bit and take a deep breath,” Danowski said. “I give Virginia a lot of credit because they played a little differently conceptually than we saw on film. We were so concerned with winning battles this week that we didn’t play great off the ball.”
But when the Blue Devils emerged from the timeout the team’s offensive spark was rekindled. Jordan Wolf found freshman Case Matheis for a crucial score as Duke tallied three consecutive goals to draw within one. In the closing seconds of the third quarter, Virginia’s Rob Emery found a hole in the Blue Devil defense and took advantage, sending the Cavaliers into the fourth quarter with a 14-12 lead.
The whistle blew for the final period, and Duke never looked back. Midfielder Jake Tripucka sniped a shot from the top of the box to pull the Blue Devils back within one before assisting on Duke’s next two goals, finding Josh Offit for another shot from long range and Dionne in the middle of the Cavalier zone to give Duke its first lead of the second half.
Tripucka finished the game with seven points on three goals and four assists. Dionne led the team with five goals, including three in the Blue Devils’ 7-0 fourth-quarter run to put the game away.
“Josh [Dionne] has been tremendously consistent from day one, and he is incredibly coachable. He’s a sponge, and he’s just gaining confidence each week,” Danowski said. “Jake is one of our best overall athletes on this team. There is really nothing he can’t do.”
Duke’s run was sparked by the tenacious play of midfielder Brendan Fowler at the faceoff X. Despite struggling throughout the third quarter against Virginia’s Mick Parks, Fowler recovered in the fourth quarter and went a perfect 9-for-9 on draws, giving the Blue Devils crucial possession during their decisive run.
The key for Fowler at the faceoff X was his intensity in the ground-ball battle. Squaring off with the top ground-ball team in the country, Duke emerged triumphant with a 44-37 advantage on the ground, including 13-3 in the fourth quarter.
“It just felt like we never had the ball. They’re a very dangerous offensive lacrosse team,” Cavalier head coach Dom Starsia said. “I thought if you tracked the last 20 minutes of the game, they probably had the ball about 16 or 17 of those minutes. I thought we could get opportunities when we had the ball, it just felt like we never had it at the end.”
Following a wild win against a conference rival, Duke will focus on keeping its winning streak alive when the team travels to face Rutgers next weekend before setting its sights on the ACC Tournament in nearby Chapel Hill.