Blue Devils pull off another second-half miracle

KENNESAW, Ga. – For the third time in as many games with the season on the line, the Blue Devils played poorly in the opening 45 minutes. But for the third time, Duke got away with it.

In a thrilling College Cup semifinal match between Wake Forest and Duke—the third meeting between the two sides this season—the Blue Devils poached a goal in the dying minutes of the first half and turned their game around in the second to advance to Duke’s first national championship game since 1992.

Kim DeCesare’s 43rd minute goal against the run of play and a string of fantastic defensive stops by Nicole Lipp, Nastasha Anasi and Libby Jandl earned Duke a halftime lead it likely didn’t deserve. The Demon Deacons, led by sophomore striker Katie Stengel and speedy winger Marisa Park, put the Blue Devil defense under pressure for nearly the entirety of the first half. Fullbacks Maddy Haller and Erin Koballa were routinely beaten down the sides of the field by their Wake Forest counterpart and the Demon Deacons were allowed to play a number of dangerous balls into the box.

“The goal at the end of the half was absolutely huge. It gave us the confidence to carry on,” head coach Robbie Church said. “We haven’t been a very good first half team. We tried almost everything and it showed.”

The momentum DeCesare’s goal generated for Duke was equally destructive for the Demon Deacons, who had controlled the game to that point and entered the locker room dejected. Just minutes into the second half, a much more vibrant Blue Devil squad put a second goal past Wake Forest goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, when Mollie Pathman finished from close range after Laura Weinberg’s shot was deflected to her by a defender.

Wake Forest striker Rachel Nuzzolese brought the Demon Deacons back into the game in the 57th minute when she drilled a free kick past an incorrectly formed Duke wall and into the right side of goal. The Blue Devil line was missing the player meant to be standing on the right-most edge, and an aware Nuzzolese quickly struck the ball into the opening. But again, Duke made timely amends for their mistake.

On the ensuing kickoff in the center circle, Mollie Pathman sent a pass forward to a streaking Kaitlyn Kerr, who was taken down in the penalty area by defender Riley Ridgik to earn the Blue Devils’ first penalty kick of the season. Unfazed, Pathman approached the ball slowly as the referee’s whistle blew, and the sophomore passed the ball into the left side of the net as Bledsoe leapt right.

For Church, the goal was a result of his Blue Devils’ second-half attitude.

“I liked our body language [after Nuzzolese’s goal]. I liked how we attacked. We played Mollie (Pathman) with the ball and [Kerr] scrambled in there and got the PK. I thought it was a really big turning point in the game, once we were able to answer their goal.”

Foiled again, the Demon Deacons didn’t have anything left for the surging Blue Devils, with their deficit back up to two goals. Kerr added insurance in the 75th minute, when her well-placed header off a Lipp corner sailed into the net at the near post.

Despite the win, Duke will have to play the first half of their national championship final against undefeated Stanford with the same intensity as the second. As the Cardinal showed against Florida State in the weekend’s first semifinal Friday, Stanford can punish defensive mistakes with quick and effective counter attacks, led by senior striker Lindsay Taylor and freshman winger Chioma Ubogagu.


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