For the first time since 2006, the Blue Devils can call themselves kings of Tobacco Road, as they dethroned top-ranked North Carolina in a Friday night thriller.
After falling behind 1-0 late in the first half against the No. 1 Tar Heels, Duke—behind the heroics of senior captain Sean Davis—found the back of the net two times within six minutes late in the second half to pull out a 2-1 win. Playing in front of a standing-room only crowd at Koskinen Stadium, the Blue Devils showed the potential they had been hinting at all season.
"It's finally a good day that the Duke fans were waiting for, and I'm really pleased for them," Duke head coach John Kerr said. "I'm really proud of our guys. They really had to keep their heads at halftime. They came out in the second half, and kept plugging away."
The game got off to a heated start, as only five seconds into the game Davis picked up a foul after taking down North Carolina senior Andy Craven with a hard slide tackle at midfield.
"I thought I saw a heavy touch and I went for it," Davis said. "I promise I got a little bit of the ball but, I did wanna send a message to them, to the guys on my team, and really set a tone from the start."
The game did not cool down after that. With a total of 20 fouls throughout the match, players were doing everything they could get away with to make sure their side left victorious.
And just as the players, the fans on both sides were rowdy throughout the evening. The Tar Heel faithful even received a warning by referee John McCloskey late in the second half. But the packed house—which is a rarity at soccer matches—was deeply appreciated by the Blue Devils.
"What a boost it gave our players, to have a big crowd like that to come out in numbers," said Kerr. "They were loud and wearing the colors. What a huge boost and bonus it was for our players…. Hopefully these fans will come back and wanna see more."
Duke (3-2-1, 1-1-0 in the ACC) found a couple of early opportunities in the first half, including a breakaway by Blue Devil sophomore Brody Huitema that was defended out by the Tar Heels (5-2-0, 1-1-0). Duke seemed to slow down soon after, being outshot by North Carolina 8-3 in the first half.
The barrage of shots took a toll on Duke, with one Tar Heel goal finally breaking through in the 38th minute. Off an assist from North Carolina Junior Alex Olofson, senior forward Tyler Engel hit a shot that clanged off the right post and rolled into the bottom right of the goal to put the Tar Heels up 1-0.
"For me giving up that first goal was disappointing because we played so well in the first half," Kerr siad.
After a quiet seven minutes following the Carolina goal, the teams came out in the second half energized and ready to start again. For the next 35 minutes, both teams traded jabs, with each side finding the occasional unsuccessful breakaway or corner.
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Then, in the 75th minute, Duke captain Davis opened the floodgates for the Blue Devils. From about 25 yards out on a free kick, the Holmdel, N.J., native lined up and hit a shot that bent into the top left corner of the goal to tie the game at 1-1 with 15:34 left.
"I felt like it was definitely calling my name," Davis said. "I feel like they were asking for it at the top of the box. It was on me to capitalize. Fortunately I did, and was able to tie the game and give us some momentum for the rest of the game."
Davis was not done there. In the 81st minute, he found freshman Cameron Moseley in the box on a cross sent in from 18 yards out. Moseley—who continues to lead the Duke squad in points in a groundbreaking freshman campaign—headed the ball near post side and put the Blue Devils up 2-1 with 9:41 left.
"I had it at the edge of the area, edge of the 18, and I saw a space near post," said Davis. "I saw [Moseley], who is great at finishing, great on getting on the end of balls, and I tried to whip in a ball so he could slide it in past the keeper. They gave me a little too much space and I was able to capitalize."
But the Tar Heels were not going to be upset without a fight. Immediately after the second goal, they cranked up their fast-paced attack to try and get back in the game, even pulling their goalie into the opposing penalty area during a last minute corner.
"[When you are ahead] you definitely have a bit of nerves,"Duke goalie Joe Ohaus said. "You know they are going come at you. But you gotta sit in and weather the storm. There were about 10 minutes left after we scored the second one, so we had to just sit in and deal with it."
The Blue Devils did just that, stymying the Tar Heel offensive for the last 10 minutes and giving Duke its first win in the ACC.
Kerr gave much of the credit to senior Davis, in what might be the captain's final game in the Tobacco Road rivalry.
"Absolutely phenomenal performance by someone that knows its his senior year, knows this may be the last chance to play Carolina, last chance to beat Carolina, and without him we would have struggled," Kerr said. "He was dynamite."