In their final regular-season conference game, the Blue Devils overcame a gritty effort from a desperate team to clinch at least a share of the ACC regular season crown.
No. 2 Duke knocked off No. 10 Virginia 17-15 at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., Friday evening to earn its seventh straight win. The Blue Devil starting midfield—sophomores Myles Jones and Deemer Class and senior Christian Walsh—led the way, combining for nine goals and eight assists.
The game changed in the second quarter, when Duke—which blew out its previous three opponents—went on a 6-0 run to seize control of the game after falling behind 6-4 early in the period. The Cavaliers, who needed to win to have a chance to qualify for the ACC tournament by finishing in the top four of the standings, lost six straight faceoffs after building their early lead and never recovered.
“It’s funny, we said to the team, ‘We haven’t been down in a few weeks,’” head coach John Danowski said. “We had to learn to embrace the struggle. Virginia has great players and a great coaching staff so we knew they were going to give us everything they had, so it was a great game for us to embrace that.”
The Blue Devils (11-2, 4-1 in the ACC) found themselves in a dogfight early in the contest. The teams split the eight first-quarter faceoffs and went back and forth, with the Cavaliers (8-5, 1-4) holding a 4-3 advantage at the end of the period.
Sophomore goalie Luke Aaron and senior faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler made the difference during Duke’s decisive second quarter spurt that spanned 11:10. Aaron—who finished with 14 saves—came up with four denials in the period, and Fowler won seven of the 10 second-quarter faceoffs to swing the momentum in Duke's favor.
Aaron and Fowler helped the Blue Devils overcome their 16 turnovers against the nation’s leader in ground balls collected. Fowler registered 14 ground balls to spark Duke’s 37-34 edge in the category.
“I was able to get in my rhythm early, and the defense played really well in front of me,” Aaron said. “It was a total team [effort]. Once Brendan started winning some faceoffs, we got some stops and got some goals. It’s a total team sport.”
Virginia had no answer for the Blue Devil offense in its man and zone defenses. Duke—which has now scored 70 goals in its last four games—shot an efficient 17-of-34 for the game.
Virginia goalkeepers Matt Barrett and Dan Marino combined for just four saves, and four Blue Devils—Jones, Walsh and senior attackmen Jordan Wolf and Josh Dionne—recorded hat tricks.
“The guys have really bought in to how we’re playing together,” Danowski said. “We don’t force a lot of shots, and the shots that we take are high-percentage shots. There aren’t many that I think we regret taking tonight. Our scorers are getting to the middle of the field and getting good opportunities. It’s tough for any goalie to make those saves.”
Although the Cavaliers committed just two turnovers, they were unable to capitalize when given chances. Virginia shot just 15-of-53 and leading scorer Mark Cockerton was held to 1-of-10 shooting and faced swarms of Blue Devil defenders, led by senior Henry Lobb.
The Cavaliers never got closer than two the rest of the way but managed to keep things interesting. Duke held a 17-12 lead with 6:24 left in the contest after Jones’ fourth goal of the game, but Virginia answered with three goals in 3:55 to give itself a chance late.
In the final minutes, Aaron and the Duke defense squashed the rally to hand the Cavaliers their first home loss of the season.
Duke will play its final regular-season contest before the conference tournament April 19 against Rutgers, Danowski’s alma mater. If Maryland loses to Notre Dame next weekend, the Blue Devils will be outright conference champions.
“[Winning an ACC regular season title] is really important on campus,” Danowski said. “From the first day you walk on campus, you’re watching men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball or football and everything is the ACC. In the lacrosse world, it’s not much of a big deal, but it is on campus and we’re very proud of it.”