Senior forward Laura Weinberg stole the ball and scored the golden goal with less than two minutes remaining in the second overtime period, giving the Blue Devils a much-needed 2-1 win against No. 9 Notre Dame at Alumni Stadium in South Bend, Ind.
“That game aged everybody,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “Playing our fourth straight road game, playing our second straight overtime game, I’m very proud of our team. We needed these three points badly.”
After a sluggish start Thursday at Clemson, Duke (6-6-4, 3-4-3 in the ACC) got off on the right foot against the Fighting Irish (9-5-1, 5-4-1). Freshman Toni Payne scored in the 19th minute to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.
“That was a great goal and an important goal,” Church said. “It’s always, always important to get that first goal and get a lead.”
Weinberg almost added a second goal five minutes later, but the ball glanced off the top of the crossbar.
However, Duke's lead disappeared moments before halftime on a defensive miscue. Irish freshman Rilka Noel scored her first goal of the season in the 44th minute on a pass from junior Karin Simonian, sending the teams into the locker room tied at 1-1 and stealing back some of Duke’s momentum.
“Like every good team, if you make a mistake they’re going to punish you, and they did,” Church said. “At halftime, some heads were down and fatigue was setting in, but we talked about how this goal is not going to end our season.”
Fatigue became a major factor in the second half. Church had to juggle his lineup, giving his starters some breathers to try to keep their legs as fresh as possible. He also made an important tactical switch, putting Weinberg up front as more of an attacking forward.
Duke survived a scare late in the second half. With 14 minutes remaining, senior forward Mollie Pathman threw the ball in on the Irish side of the field, but Notre Dame immediately regained possession. The Irish quickly dribbled the ball up the field, leading to a shot that Blue Devil goalie Meghan Thomas stopped. The ball rebounded off Thomas and came back toward an Irish attacker, but the Duke defense was able to clear the ball.
In the 87th minute, another looping shot made its way toward Thomas, who leaped to deflect it, then was able to corral it behind her before it crossed the goal line. Duke stymied several more Notre Dame attacks in the half’s final minute to send the game to overtime tied 1-1.
Notre Dame had two corner kicks in the final minute of the first overtime period, but came away with nothing to show for it. On the period’s final play, an Irish attacker slipped through traffic and rifled a shot, but Thomas turned it away to preserve the tie.
The second overtime continued the back-and-forth flow of the game, as the ball changed ends of the pitch quickly. With under two minutes to go, the Irish sent a ball back toward freshman goalie Kaela Little, and Weinberg ran up to apply pressure.
Weinberg and Little battled for the ball at the corner of the goalie box, and the Duke forward came away with the ball as the goalie fell to the ground. Facing an unimpeded path to the goal, Weinberg floated the ball into the net to give the Blue Devils the 2-1 victory.
“We were a little fortunate, but we’ll take that right now,” Church said. “We grinded, and we finally got something to go our way.”
With the win, Duke sits right at the .500 mark—the cutoff for postseason eligibility—with three games remaining. The Blue Devils are also fighting to make the eight-team ACC tournament field, sitting tied for ninth with 12 points in the logjammed ACC standings. Duke sits just one point behind eighth-place Boston College, and the distance between sixth and 12th place in the conference is just four points.
The Blue Devils face N.C. State and Pittsburgh at home this week—two teams with a combined 1-21 conference record—and finish the season at No. 4 North Carolina. There are multiple paths by which the Blue Devils could get into the NCAA tournament, but Church would prefer to take care of business next week.
“The pressure’s not off of us,” Church said. “You can’t take anything for granted, but I like how we’re playing and I think we’re in good shape. We’ve got a big week next week.”