The drought has ended.
Duke took home its first ACC conference victory of the season Friday night at Newton Campus Field against Boston College in a close contest. An early goal by junior midfielder Nick Palodichuk was enough for the Blue Devil defense to hold on to a 1-0 victory.
"It feels great," Duke head coach John Kerr said. "We've played well in a lot of ACC games this year and come a little bit short. But we were very resilient at Boston College Friday night and deserved the victory in the end."
Palodichuk found the back of the net in the 10th minute of the contest, when Brody Huitema hit Tyler McDaniel with a pass and the senior midfielder headed the ball across to Palodichuk, who calmly put the ball beyond Eagle goalkeeper Alex Kapp’s reach. The goal was Palodichuk’s third of the season, and just the third goal the Blue Devils have scored in the first half of a game this year.
“It was a confidence booster for sure and took the wind out of Boston College’s sails because they were coming at us with a lot of good players coming forward with speed,” Kerr said. “To kind of counteract that and get an early goal in the game is great for our confidence.”
Following Palodichuk’s goal, the Eagles (5-4-3, 3-3-2 in the ACC) nearly evened the score multiple times, but Duke’s back line kept Boston College off the scoreboard thanks to three key first-half saves from goalkeeper Alex Long. Head coach John Kerr noted the importance of going up early especially for this team that has failed to do so much of the season.
Duke (5-4-5, 1-3-4) has had four draws in conference play, including the three straight matches leading into Boston College. In all of those contests, the Blue Devils have had opportunities to earn the victory, but have made a crucial mistake in each game. Kerr said the resilience from these matches has helped the team develop maturity in these close matches.
“We’ve learned throughout the season in terms of concentrating all the way down to the last whistle, and on Friday night it paid off,” Kerr said. “It was definitely frustrating for all of us because in a few of those games we did deserve victories, but every game in the ACC is hard. If you look at the results over the season, there’s a lot of games that have gone into overtime, a lot of games that ended in a draw, so it's very tight in our league this year, and every win is precious.”
The most consistent aspect to Duke’s game has been on the defensive end. The Blue Devils have allowed one goal in the past four games combined. After moving sophomore Zach Mathers back into the center back position from the midfield, the defense has continued to improve.
“Defensively, he provides stability and he reads the game really well, so for us to have him and [Sebastien Ibeagha] directing the middle back is huge,” Kerr said. “It’s sometimes interesting how teams develop over the course of the season, and I think now we’re doing a good job understanding each others' strengths and minimizing our weaknesses. We’re excited about the direction we’re headed.”
Combined with Mathers, Ibeagha, and Rob Dolot on the backline, Long has found a comfortable place anchoring the Duke defensive effort. Against the Eagles, Duke played forward more often lessening the pressure on ong and the back line to deliver in crucial situations.
With Long's fifth clean sheet of the season Friday against Boston College, Duke has now allowed just one goal in its last four contests.
“He’s been through this before at South Carolina, so he knows the script and now he’s getting really comfortable with the back four ahead of him and the team is defending from the front now,” Kerr said. “Not only our back four, but our whole team is defending higher, and [it has] paid dividends because the back four doesn’t have to work as much and also offensively we’re doing a better job of keeping possession.”
With seven points accumulated in conference play, Duke sits at 10th place in the ACC. Should the team hope to reach the eight-team ACC tournament, the Blue Devils have some work to do in their final three conference contests of the season against Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Clemson. Another win would give the Blue Devils three more points and catapult them into a tie for sixth place with Virginia.
“It’s a challenge to finish off the season but we’re excited about the direction and what we’ve accomplished so far this season, and hopefully we can emerge and finish off strong,” Kerr said. “If we win the last three games, we’ll get [into the ACC tournament] and that’s all we’re concentrating on.”