As the Blue Devils and Bruins neared the penultimate minute of Friday evening’s contest, it appeared the game was headed for overtime.
But a game that included a missed penalty kick, clutch saves from both goalkeepers and stout defending by both sides took an unexpected turn.
A back-heel pass from freshman Suniel Veerakone found the right foot of Brian White nearly 30 yards out. The junior midfielder then fired a shot to stun one of the sport’s dominant college programs.
With just more than two minutes remaining, a strike from White clanked off the left post and in, sending Duke past No. 9 UCLA 1-0 at Drake Stadium in Los Angeles. The long-range shot was one of 14 combined shots on goal between the teams, but arguably the least likely to find the back of the net.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, it did just that.
“Brian [White] got a second wind because he was struggling late in the second half,” Duke head coach John Kerr told GoDuke.com. “He grew in stature tonight by playing defense when we needed it, being strong, and he popped into that hole, found some space and just whacked it.”
Despite a quick pace, neither team could get much going in the first half. The Bruins utilized their speed with midfielder Jackson Yueill and forward Seyi Adekoya threatening in the final third. But the Blue Devil defense kept UCLA (1-1-1) at bay with steady defense anchored by junior Markus Fjortoft and freshman CC Uche.
Once again, Duke (2-0-1) received a huge boost on the back line from graduate student goalkeeper Robert Moewes, who tallied his first clean sheet of the season. The Dortmund, Germany, native made eight saves and has surrendered just two goals in his first three contests as a Blue Devil.
“[Robert] made so many big saves that kept us in the game at times,” Kerr said. “It built our confidence because it felt like he wasn’t going to let any goals past him.”
After a few mistakes by the Bruins in the first half gave Duke opportunities to jump out to an early lead, the Blue Devils put Moewes to the fire less than five minutes into the second half when an Uche foul just inside the 18-yard box sent UCLA’s Brian Iloski to the penalty spot.
But Iloski could not make the most of his team’s best chance Friday as the shot on the ground missed wide right of goal. Even if it had been on frame, it appeared as if Moewes was in position to make the save.
From that point on, it was a 40-minute sprint to the finish. And as the Bruins continued to bring the pressure, Duke met the challenge.
Even with plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, UCLA struggled to score through its first two games. And though they attacked with frequency, it was much of the same in their third matchup of the regular season.
Yueill had three shots and forwards Jason Romero and Blayne Martinez, as well as midfielders Matthew Powell and Jose Hernandez, each registered a pair of shots—but the numerous attempts between them failed to get past Moewes every time.
Ultimately, the visitors made the most of the counterattack when they notched the game’s only tally.
Although Kerr used a shorter bench than in the Blue Devils’ first two games, all four reserves played vital minutes. Freshman forward Colby Agu entered after an injury sent Bryson Asher to the sidelines just nine minutes into the game. Senior forward Jared Golestani also made his mark on the contest when he nearly capitalized on his lone shot in just 11 minutes of play.
“The bench was a really big plus for us,” Kerr said. “The subs that came on did a really good job of playing their roles tonight. I thought that was crucial in the win.”
With big-time matchups at No. 11 Boston College and home against No. 21 Wake Forest looming during the next two weeks, Friday’s victory against a top-10 team should be a major boost for an improving Duke squad.
“It certainly gives us a lot of confidence,” Kerr said. “We have to be aware of not thinking that this is the season-maker and we don’t go on overconfident against Boston College. But certainly, it sets a standard that we can reach and I feel that we’ve only scratched the surface.”
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."