For 54 minutes Saturday afternoon, the Blue Devils seemed to have all of the answers for the Pioneers. But Denver made just enough plays in the final six minutes to squeak by with a win.
The No. 2 Pioneers put away No. 3 Duke 14-12 in an intense matchup at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in the Cobb County Classic in Kennesaw, Ga. Billed as a thriller, the game lived up to its hype, with the teams trading goals for much of the afternoon. Denver finally pulled away for good behind tallies from midfielders Tyler Pace and Colin Woolford, keeping the defending national champions unbeaten early in the season.
The Pioneers never trailed on the afternoon, but were unable to shake the Blue Devils for much of the game. Every time Denver scored a goal, two or even three straight, Duke responded with one of its own, tying the game on five separate occasions before Pace's goal with 5:13 left proved to be the game-winner.
“Games are never won or lost at the end, but rather over the course of 60 minutes,” Duke head coach John Danowski told GoDuke.com. “I thought we were somewhat tentative in the first quarter—both offensively and defensively and I think that came back to bite us. Against a team like [Denver], you need to take advantage of winning four of the first five draws.”
The Blue Devils (2-1) found themselves in a hole early as Denver (2-0) jumped out to a 3-0 lead, despite Duke’s Kyle Rowe dominating the faceoff battle in the first period. Rowe won 4-of-5 draws in the game’s first 15 minutes, but struggled the rest of the way, finishing 10-of-25 on the afternoon.
Midfielder Myles Jones got his first goal of the afternoon late in the first quarter and then added another less than two minutes into the second, cutting the Pioneer lead back to one. A top-shelf shot into the upper right hand corner of the net by midfielder Deemer Class then fired up the Blue Devil bench as they tied the game at three.
From there, the back-and-forth battle ensued. Even though Denver took a 5-4 lead into the locker room at halftime, they did not hold it for long. Class’s second goal of the game came just 1:38 into the second half, bringing Duke even.
“I don’t know that we thought we were sharp [offensively],” Danowski said. “We expect a little more from our guys. We think they are capable of a little more, but with that being said, it was great to be in this game and this atmosphere and to be in it and remember what it’s like, how hard and how disciplined and how well you have to play in order to be successful against a team like Denver. Hopefully, that will be one of the takeaways to reengage in that mindset that you probably haven’t had since late spring—that will be the takeaway for our guys.”
The game continued to see-saw back and forth, with the Pioneers—led by Connor Cannizzaro's hat trick—always managing to gain the upper hand, only for the Blue Devils to match them shortly afterward. The two sides were even in more ways than just on the scoreboard—each registered 21 shots on goal and Denver goalkeeper Alex Ready secured nine saves to seven for Duke's Danny Fowler.
After Jack Bruckner and Case Matheis opened the scoring in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 9-9, the Pioneers seemed to create enough separation with three goals in less than three minutes, but the Blue Devils mounted one final rally. Senior Chad Cohan got on the board with his fourth goal of the season with 7:30 to go, Class added his fourth goal of the day 31 seconds later and sophomore Justin Guterding took a feed from Jones to knot things up at 12-12 with 6:10 remaining.
The momentum seemed to be in Duke's favor—but then the Pioneers put their foot down, with Pace and Woolford slamming the door shut on the Blue Devil comeback bid.
“It’s always a great opportunity to play here in Atlanta,” Danowski said. "It’s a unique atmosphere—the stadium, the crowd and playing against the defending national champions. It was a great experience for our team.”
Seven Blue Devils made it into the scorebook, led by Class and Jones, who combined for seven of the 12 goals. Matheis added three assists and Jones chipped in two.
“We’ll be back here—maybe—for the ACC tournament in April under similar conditions,” Danowski said. “That’s why this game is so neat to play in early in the year [in order] to show the freshmen what it’s like playing the defending national champions.”
For now, the focus remains on the present as the Blue Devils return to action in a week, hitting the road to challenge Jacksonville—the first of four true road games on their schedule this season.
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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."