On a chilly October night, Duke desperately needed a win against a top-ranked opponent if it wanted to keep its postseason hopes alive. After 90 minutes of play, the Blue Devils were still in desperate need of that win.
Then in overtime, they got it.
The golden goal with just 46 seconds remaining in the first overtime period of Tuesday's 2-1 win at Koskinen Stadium for Duke against No. 10 Elon was a critical moment in the Blue Devils' campaign for a postseason bid. With a soft cross from defender Kevon Black, the ball landed at the feet of forward Brody Huitema, who toed it past the Phoenix goalkeeper and lifted Duke to victory.
After Friday's dominant 6-2 victory against rival N.C. State, Tuesday night was an opportunity for the Blue Devils to build on that momentum. A chippy game saw Elon jump out to an early 1-0 lead, but with a Duke response in the 20th minute, the Phoenix were unable to resurrect themselves and regain a grasp on the game.
"There’s so much at stake," Duke head coach John Kerr said. "We know the ramifications at the end of the year of what wins like this mean. A loss last year to Elon kept us out of the tournament and maybe a win against Elon this year will get us into the tournament."
It was yet another physical battle for the Blue Devils (7-6-2), as the game featured a combined 34 fouls, capped off by a red card shown in the 92nd minute. Elon midfielder Nick Adamczyk slid hard into Duke midfielder Brian White and the nasty cleats-up tackle sent White immediately to the ground. With the play taking place right in front of the fourth official on the sideline, it was an easy call for referee Matthew Richardson to put the Phoenix down to 10 men for the remainder of the overtime period.
Constant pressure from Elon early on forced both teams to play the game at a rapid pace, as the Duke defense was on its heels for a large portion of the first 10 minutes of the game. After a save from Blue Devil goalkeeper Mitch Kupstas and a clearance by defender Carter Manley, Elon (12-3) finally capitalized. Forward Cooper Vandermaas-Peeler slotted a through ball into the back of the net past Kupstas, who kept a clean sheet for the final 97 minutes of the night.
“[Kupstas] been solid. His decision making has really improved," Kerr said. "He’s getting more and more comfortable with the back four, he’s giving more directions, and I thought he did another great job tonight. His decision making, when to come off the back line, was superb."
White gave Duke the bounce-back boost it needed just seven minutes later. A cross from Manley deflected off a Phoenix defender before falling right at the feet of White, who tapped it past Elon goalkeeper Matthew Jegier for the equalizer in a back-and-forth affair.
The Blue Devils got quite familiar with the right goalpost during the course of the match, with second-half chances from forward Jeremy Ebobisse and midfielder Zach Mathers both nailing the post. Neither shot, however, hit the back of the net, and it wasn't until Huitema's overtime goal that Duke was able to achieve the 2-1 margin of victory.
"As soon as the cross came in, I saw Jeremy come in and I knew he was going to challenge for [the ball]," Huitema said. "I knew the keeper was going to go up with him, so I was just hoping that some kind of mishandle was going to happen or a punch that would just land at my feet and luckily it did."
The Blue Devils have just three regular-season games remaining, but with a win against a top-10 opponent, their current RPI of 45 is likely to jump and give their NCAA tournament hopes a major boost.
"For the last three regular-season games, we need to take this [momentum], and we need to go out there and win those," Huitema said. "With where we are in the RPI, we’re going to need a couple of wins at least in the ACC...It’s important for us to not look past any of these next three because we cannot lose them and we need to win them all."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."