After a successful opening weekend, the Blue Devils will take their high-flying offense down south to face the defending national champions in the first marquee matchup of the lacrosse season.
The No. 3 Blue Devils travel to Kennesaw, Ga., Saturday to take on No. 2 Denver in the Cobb County Classic at 2 p.m. at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. The Pioneers toppled Duke last season in the event, pulling away in the second half for a 17-13 victory.
With a long offseason in the rearview mirror, Duke eased past High Point 17-6 a week ago in its season-opener and held off a fourth-quarter comeback bid from Lehigh two days later, winning 13-11.
Although the offense was explosive during the season's opening weekend, the Blue Devils still have things to tweak. After Duke built up an 11-6 lead after three quarters Sunday, the Mountain Hawks stormed back and capitalized on several Blue Devil mistakes. After Duke midfielder Jack Bruckner scored with 5:48 remaining to push the cushion to 13-8, Lehigh rattled off three goals in a 1:06 span.
Kyle Rowe secured the ensuing face-off and Duke escaped with the win, but it was far from the final 15 minutes Duke head coach John Danowski wanted to see from his team.
“One of the things every team has to learn is game management,” Danowski said. “Being up 9-3, you think it is going to be easy. I thought we left a couple scoring opportunities on the field and it maybe could have been 11 or 12-3 [at the half]. The team has to learn how to play with a lead and we didn’t do a good job while Lehigh did a terrific job of just playing. We had a 13-8 lead with two minutes to go, and then we throw the ball away on man-up and we pick up a foul.”
Duke's sloppy late-game play overshadowed the success of the offense, which embarked on a 5-0 run halfway through the second quarter. Duke received two goals apiece from sophomore Justin Guterding and senior Chad Cohan, but the Blue Devils will need to work on their extra-man offense in preparation for the Pioneers. Duke only scored on one of their five extra-man attempts.
“Tip our caps to Lehigh, but we created our own problems,” Danowski said. “We gave them some opportunities, but it is something we can hopefully learn from.”
Led by seniors Myles Jones and Deemer Class at midfield and Case Matheis and Cohan at attack, the Blue Devils will always have a plethora of options to turn to with a game on the line. Although Jones, Class and Matheis have started for most of their career in Durham, Cohan is a newcomer to the permanent starting lineup. The San Francisco native started 10 games last season at both midfield and attack, scoring 14 goals and seven assists.
“Chad has played a lot for us over the last three years at midfield and attack and has played in big games, being on the field in national championship games," Danowski said. "It is his time, and you always look to your seniors first, because the hope is that they will be like coaches on the field.”
The veterans comprise the nucleus of the Blue Devil offense, but several younger players will have to produce with their fresh legs against a deep Denver squad. The trio of sophomores Jake Seau and David Gill and freshman Brad Smith comprise the second line at the midfield. Seau and Gill saw time last season, but Smith has made a splash as a newcomer. Chosen for the U-19 U.S. National Team earlier this year, he scored the first goal of his career in the first half against Lehigh.
“They had about 25 shifts over the two games—that is a lot for a second midfield,” Danowski said. “We want them to be comfortable, gain experience, learn how to play together and learn how to play with [the starting] attack group. The hope is for them to become comfortable so they can relax on the field and not be so robotic.”
The Pioneers (1-0) escaped Air Force in the first game of their season, winning 10-9 after freshman Nate Marano scored two late goals to survive an upset bid by the Falcons. The Pioneers only had 27 shots on goal against Air Force, but Marano had four goals to lead all scorers.
Denver boats the best faceoff man in the nation in Trevor Baptiste and one of the best pure scorers in attackman Connor Cannizzaro. Baptiste holds a 326-for-479 career ledger at the faceoff X and set a freshman record in 2015 with 310 wins.
"[Baptiste] provides a great opportunity for Kyle [Rowe] to see where he matches up,” Danowski said. “The faceoff is such an integral part of our game, along with wing play—it can help us immensely. While Kyle will be challenged, [others] will be pressured as well. We will need Tommy [Zenker], Garrett [Van de Ven], Jamie [Ikeda] and Brian [Dunne]. They will be important guys this weekend.”
Cannizzaro, who transferred from Maryland in 2014, was a first-team All-American last season and broke the Denver single-season record for points with 90. With 12 hat tricks last season, Cannizzaro had three goals and five assists in the Pioneers' win against Duke last year and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. But the Blue Devil defense will also have to contend with the acrobatic Zach Miller.
“You can’t really stop [Cannizzaro], you just try to contain him. He is terrific within a great system. Matt Brown, their coach, is an offensive genius—he really knows how to get the most out of his players," Danowski said. "He puts them in spots where they can be successful and so the whole team is going to have to be aware of where he is relative to other guys. It will be more of a team effort than individual.”
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