Strength and resiliency are trademark qualities of Air Force cadets throughout the nation, and the Falcons’ lacrosse team was no exception Tuesday night.
Attackman Christian Walsch scored on a three-on-one fast break with 10 seconds left in overtime as the No. 20 Falcons upset No. 11 Duke 10-9 at Koskinen Stadium, breaking the Blue Devils’ two-game winning streak and once again poking holes in a Blue Devil squad that has had an up-and-down year. After trailing by as many as five in the first half, Air Force roared back in the second half behind Walsch’s three goals and four assists, and the Falcons left Durham with a win for the first time since 1975.
“Air Force just outplayed us—we had plenty of opportunities,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “Their goalie was brilliant and defensively I thought they were much tougher than our kids. I think their kids just wanted to win more than our kids.”
Falcon goalkeeper Dough Gouchoe delivered five of his 17 saves in the third quarter, subduing the Blue Devil offense as Air Force (7-2) used a 6-0 run in the second half to grab a 9-8 lead with 10 minutes left in regulation. Walsch led the way with seven points, Christopher Allen had two goals and fellow attackman Nick Hruby chipped in two goals and an assist.
“If you look up on the board, I wrote, ‘60 minutes, the academies won’t quit,’” Danowski said. “These kids had no quit in them, they played hard and they believed that they were going to win. I think that when it was 5-2, we had a little bit of fool’s gold. With the Loyola and Georgetown game, maybe both teams just had bad days, and we are not as good as we thought we were and maybe there was a little bit of that mentality.”
With six minutes left in regulation, senior Deemer Class received a pass from linemate Case Matheis, squared his shoulders and buried the ball into the back of the net to the tie the game. Duke (6-4) had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but sophomore Justin Guterding’s shot with five seconds left hit the pipe and bounced out as the game went into extra time.
Stalemated early on in overtime, a Greg Pelton pushing call gave the Falcons a chance to win the game with an extra-man opportunity. The Blue Devils held on, but neither offense could get much going. As the final seconds ticked off, a confusing sequence left junior defenseman Ethan Powley injured on the ground, kickstarting the fast break that produced Walsch’s game-ending goal.
“I thought [Powley] was pushed over the midfield line,” Danowski said. “But the referee makes that call, but we threw it away. It had nothing to do with the officials.”
Turnovers were the story for both teams in the first half, as Air Force and Duke combined for 15 giveaways. The Falcon defense challenged the Blue Devil offense early, forcing bad shots and giving Class and company fits.
Jack Bruckner started the scoring with a lunging goal around Gouchoe off a dart from Guterding behind the net. Duke jumped out to a 3-0 lead behind goals from Bruckner, Chad Cohan and Class, but Walsch kept the Falcons around in the first half with a goal of his own.
After an Air Force goal was waived off due to a crease violation, the Blue Devils entered halftime with a short-lived sense of confidence. But the Falcons came out in the second half firing on all cylinders, as Air Force weathered an early Myles Jones goal and began to fight its way back into the contest.
A lone bright spot for Duke was the senior leadership displayed by Cohan, who scored three goals along with an assist. Jones finished with two goals and faceoff specialist Kyle Rowe was 16-for-21 at the X with 13 ground balls.
“Our attack was 1-for-17 shooting and without seeing the film I can’t predict, but there were probably a lot of good looks out of those 17. We were disappointed in our ability, but Kyle Rowe once again got us the ball,” Danowski said. “When they went on their run, they just made plays. We were close, but they were just tougher than we were. I tip my cap to [Air Force].”
Powley left the field on a cart, leaving plenty of questions as Duke gets ready to enter ACC play Saturday at noon against No. 5 Syracuse at Koskinen Stadium.
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