CHAPEL HILL—For the past decade, the Tobacco Road rivalry had been more of a lopsided affair, with the Tar Heels always finding a way to best the Blue Devils. But sophomore forward Imani Dorsey made sure that streak came to an end Friday night.
Thanks to a late first-half goal from Dorsey and a stalwart defensive performance, Duke upset No. 7 North Carolina 1-0 at Fetzer Field to notch its third-ever win in the series and the first since 2005.
In the 44th minute, sophomore midfielder Ashton Miller sent a long cross from midfield that the Tar Heel defense could not turn away. The ball found Dorsey, who entered the box and netted the lone goal of the evening with a right-footed shot that got past North Carolina goalkeeper Bryane Heaberlin.
“The last time we beat North Carolina in 2005, I had brown hair. Now obviously it’s not brown anymore,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “This is great, unbelievable. I’m so happy that the girls got to experience this. To come over here and win on their field when they have a very good team is very satisfying. [It pays off] all the work you put in—all the video work, all the recruiting.”
Once Dorsey's shot found the back of the net to give the Blue Devils (8-4-4, 2-2-3 in the ACC) the lead, Duke's defense again stepped up to make sure the advantage held up for the full 90 minutes. Sophomore goalkeeper E.J. Proctor registered saves on all four Tar Heel shots that came her way, running her current scoreless streak to 302 minutes. The win Friday marked the Blue Devils' third consecutive road shutout—and 10th clean sheet of the season—and North Carolina's third straight loss.
Playing as a center-back for the first time in her Duke career, junior captain Christina Gibbons and classmate Rebecca Quinn turned away most of the crosses the Tar Heels put inside the 18-yard box before they turned into shots aimed at Proctor. Freshman Chelsea Burns made her second career start occupying the left flank of the defensive third and sophomore Morgan Reid defended the other side of the pitch.
“Before the game, [the other defenders] came to me and said ‘It’s just another game.’ I knew that I had done it before and that I could do it now,” Burns said. “Definitely playing with them and hearing them is encouraging because I know they’re always covering me and it’s very helpful.”
The Tar Heels (11-3-1, 4-3-0) entered Friday’s contest with 35 goals but registered just two first-half shots, only one of which was on frame. Midfielder Joanna Boyles led North Carolina’s attack with four attempts, including one of the host's best chances of the night. With three minutes left to play, the junior connected on a header from inside the box that came within inches of tying the contest.
Forward Jessie Scarpa—the Tar Heels' second-leading scorer with six goals and top facilitator with six assists—did not fire a shot in the first half, and the 2014 ACC All-Freshman selection's two second-half shots missed the target.
“We wanted this [win] really badly,” Gibbons said. “We killed ourselves out there but it was all worth it to get the win. [Our secret tonight] was just our work ethic. When we win the ball, we keep it and go forward. But everyone’s got to work defensively, every single person—from the forwards to the goalkeeper, not just the defenders or midfielders. That’s what we’re going to keep building on."
On the other side of the field, Duke had at least three clear sights on goal in the opening period before Miller and Dorsey manufactured what proved to be the winning goal.
Freshman forward Taylor Racioppi had the first chance to put Duke ahead 1-0 in the third minute, volleying a ball from 20 yards out, but Heaberlin blocked the strike without trouble. The Blue Devils—who entered Friday’s game averaging 1.7 goals and 20.5 shots per contest—had a second scoring opportunity with 14 minutes left before intermission. With a slight touch, junior forward Toni Payne fed freshman attacker Kayla McCoy, who powered a shot from 12 yards out but Heaberlin pulled off her second save of the evening.
In the 38th minute, Burns put an inviting cross inside the box and Racioppi connected on a header but the Tar Heel goalkeeper dealt with the attempt. Six minutes later, Dorsey's finish provided the one-goal advantage that gave Duke the edge for the rest of the night.
“I just remember seeing Ashton [Miller] having some space on the ball and I know she can get a great long ball,” Dorsey said. “So I put myself wide to give me some space and she hit a perfect ball. It just hit one of the center-backs on the head and I got on it. I was able to turn myself and just get one touch on the outside back and just tried to keep it on frame. When it went in the net, it was a really good feeling.”
North Carolina outshot the Blue Devils 10-6 in the second half, but Duke was closer to extending its lead than the Tar Heels came to finding the equalizer. Church’s squad could have doubled its advantage in the 57th minute, when Racioppi controlled the ball inside the box, dribbled past a Tar Heel defender and racked up a shot that hit the post.
With 10 minutes left, McCoy found Payne, who attempted a curling shot that missed the target by a few inches. In the 82nd minute, Dorsey almost scored her second goal of the evening after pouncing on a Tar Heel turnover. The Elkridge, Md., native started a counter-attack at midfield and beat a North Carolina defender, but her shot from inside the box flew across the bar.
“[Our next goal is] wins, wins and wins,” Church said. “Obviously, you have a resume that you post to the NCAA. And we want to have the best resume possible to post. These next three games are about where you play some of the games in the NCAA tournament. If we can post wins against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and N.C. State, that gives us a great chance that we can stay at home. We’ll just give the NCAA the best resume we can possibly give them, and they’ll get to make their own decisions based on [our results.]”
The Blue Devils start a three-game home stretch to end regular-season action Thursday when they battle Pittsburgh at Koskinen Stadium at 7 p.m.