BALTIMORE—Fighting Irish freshman Sergio Perkovic singlehandedly fired up a sluggish Notre Dame squad and nearly brought his team all the way back against the Blue Devils, but in the end it was experience that won out.
Duke senior attackman Jordan Wolf tallied two goals—including a game-sealing dagger with 23 seconds left—and four assists to hand the Blue Devils an 11-9 victory for their second straight national title at M&T Bank Stadium Monday afternoon.
"We've been in this situation many times this year. We squandered a 14-10 lead against Syracuse in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, so we learned a great lesson there hopefully," head coach John Danowski said. "You've got to learn to keep playing, and somebody has got to make a play sometimes."
Although they did not keep pace with their postseason average of 18 goals per game, the top-seeded Blue Devils dominated the first half, holding Notre Dame to just four shots on goal, winning the ground ball battle 17-10 and forcing the Fighting Irish into 11 turnovers before the break.
"We were so bad in the first half," Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said. "We had 11 turnovers in the first half. That's a game's worth of turnovers, and I'm going to say two of them were forced, and a bunch of them were just throwing the ball out of bounds."
Duke suffered turnovers of its own in its opening two possessions, but at the 8:33 mark in the first quarter, Baltimore native Christian Walsh broke the scoreless tie. The senior picked up a ground ball on the offensive end and scored an off-balance shot off the ground to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.
Although it had a number of chances, Duke failed to add to that lead until the eight-second mark in the quarter when sophomore Deemer Class, also playing in his hometown, scored his 37th goal of the season off a feed from classmate Myles Jones.
"Notre Dame was brilliantly coached," Danowski said. "They had a plan, they played tremendous defense and our guys got a little impatient in the first half.... I mean, we were trying to score and people thought we were stalling, and we don't play that way."
The Blue Devils took more than six minutes to get on the board in the second quarter as well and let up a goal to Fighting Irish leading scorer Matt Kavanagh, but the Jones and Class each scored, and midfielder Will Haus scored unassisted in transition to give Duke a 5-1 lead heading into halftime.
Coming out of the break, Perkovic jumpstarted the Fighting Irish offense, scoring five minutes into the third quarter to cut Duke's lead back to four and then notching his second tally five minutes later to halt Duke's 2-0 run.
"Duke did a great job in the first half disrupting our offense, and they weren't really sliding. They were pressing out," Perkovic said. "In the second, I just wanted to beat my guys... and try to take advantage of them not sliding, just going hard, being aggressive and dodging hard. That's what I like to do."
Notre Dame freshman Ben Pridemore and sophomore Matt Kavanaugh joined the party too, each notching a goal as part of a four-goal run bookended by Perkovic that put the Fighting Irish within two for the first time since the first quarter.
Wolf responded a minute later, attacking the Fighting Irish defense from the left side, dodging his way to the middle and adding a goal to his three previous assists on the day.
Duke had no time to enjoy its three-goal lead as Liam O'Connor won the face off for Notre Dame, sprinted down the field and found senior John Scioscia for an easy finish from just outside of the crease.
Back within two, Perkovic struck again. Losing Blue Devil Charlie Payton with a spin move, the freshman buried his fourth goal of the game to narrow the margin to just 9-8 with five minutes to play and give the Fighting Irish a chance at an equalizer.
"It was the second practice of the year when I turned to our coaches and said, '[Perkovic] may be the best player we've ever had,'" Corrigan said. "So it's no surprise to me.... I think he's going to be one of the absolute stars in college lacrosse for the next three years."
Just as they did Saturday against Denver, however, the Blue Devils had an answer when their lead dropped to just one goal—junior attackman Kyle Keenan. Keenan, playing in place of the injured Josh Dionne, had scored with Duke leading the Pioneers 12-11 to spark a 3-0 run that ended the comeback effort.
Against Notre Dame, Keenan came up big again, making a cut down the middle, receiving a pass from Wolf and finding the top left corner of the net before goalie Conor Kelly could react to put Duke up 10-8.
"Jordan pressed that side—gave me a great feed," Keenan said. "I didn't even think I was open, but he put it just right on my stick."
But unlike their final push against Denver, the Blue Devils still had work to do with Perkovic leading the charge for the Fighting Irish.
With less than a minute to play, Perkovic found space away from the Duke defense and calmly stepped into a powerful top-shelf shot to bring the Fighting Irish within one with 49 seconds to play.
The Blue Devils, however, won the faceoff and called timeout. Out of the break, Notre Dame kept goalie Conor Kelly in, opting to double team Wolf as the goalie defended the middle of the field, removed from the crease. Wolf dodged both his defenders to get in front of the goal and slotted his second goal before Kelly could recover.
"I missed the one two minutes before so [I] had to make up for it," Wolf said. " They doubled, the goalie was out and I just ran past and dunked it."
With his six-point performance, Wolf ended his career holding Duke's single-season points record, a tie for Duke's tournament points record and the ACC's second-highest mark in career points behind former Blue Devil player and current assistant coach Matt Danowski.
Wolf never missed a practice, John Danowski noted, during the team's run of four straight final weekends and two straight national titles.
"This one is a little more sad just because it's my last game at Duke," Wolf said. "I love my teammates, my coaches.... They've helped me tremendously on the field, and more importantly on the field, being a man and growing up.... it just [stinks] that I have to leave, but it's a good way to walk off."