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Inexperience shows for Duke men's lacrosse in season-opening loss to Air Force

<p>Justin Guterding posted a hat trick Sunday and brought Duke within one late in the contest, but the Blue Devils still fell.</p>

Justin Guterding posted a hat trick Sunday and brought Duke within one late in the contest, but the Blue Devils still fell.

Against a tough opponent to start the season, a young team hit an early wall.

No. 10 Duke fell to No. 17 Air Force Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium 11-10, with the Falcons overcoming an 8-6 third-period deficit thanks to five consecutive goals. Although the Blue Devils clawed back within one with 7:06 left thanks to a pair of Justin Guterding goals in a 41-second span, Duke's lack of continuity in the offensive midfield showed late in the contest.

Although the Blue Devils have Guterding at full strength—the junior notched a hat trick Sunday—they are breaking in a brand new offensive midfield, which led to several stalled possessions and seven scoreless minutes to end a deflating loss to Air Force for the second straight year.  

“Playing on February 5 is a blessing and a curse,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “The blessing is that the kids want to play and get out there, the curse is they may not quite be ready for some things.”

After dueling to a 1-1 draw after one quarter thanks to extra-man goals from both teams, Duke (0-1) weathered a three-goal run by Air Force (1-0) and mounted a comeback before halftime with three straight goals from a trio that had never worn a Blue Devils uniform prior to this season. 

Freshmen Kevin Quigley and Joey Manown, wearing All-American Jordan Wolf’s old number 31, and junior Villanova transfer Sean Cerrone hit fundamentally strong high-to-low shots to beat goalkeeper Paxton Boyer to tie the game at five late in the first half after falling behind 5-2.

Quigley and Cerrone are replacing All-American midfielders Myles Jones and Deemer Class and combined for two goals and an assist on five combined shots Sunday.

“There was some good things and some bad things,” Danowski said. “[Quigley] scored his first college goal and [Cerrone] his first Duke goal, but there were some really uneven spots and there is no senior or junior out there to show them the way and it’s going to make for an interesting year.”

Although the Blue Devils took a one-goal lead into the locker room following a Jack Bruckner goal, the Falcons returned the score quickly on a Andrew Tien goal that beat Duke goalkeeper Danny Fowler low. Fowler had a mixed performance to start his senior year, as he could only manage three saves in the second half as Air Force pulled away.

A 16-of-21 performance from Kyle Rowe at the faceoff X was not enough as the Blue Devils’ possessions came up empty time and time again. After taking an 8-6 lead halfway through the third quarter on Bruckner’s second goal and Guterding’s first, the Falcons ripped off five straight scores through the end of the third quarter into the beginning of the fourth.

Nick Hruby led the visitors with a game-high four goals, and as Fowler stumbled, Boyer rose up in his first career start with 14 saves. 

During the Air Force run, Duke could not score on extra-man opportunities and, by sheer bad luck, found its shots hitting the pipes around Boyer. The lone positive for the Blue Devils during that stretch was the reemergence of Guterding, one of Duke’s most productive offensive players in the last two years and a stabilizing force for the attack. 

Guterding's late eruption energized the home crowd, and the preseason All-ACC pick had a left-handed turn-around shot ricochet off the bottom right corner pipe later in the contest.

“[I] took a little bit to find my rhythm,” Guterding said. “I found it eventually but I think it was a little too late. It’s me and [Bruckner] who are our returning guys and we know a lot of weight is on our shoulders and today was not good enough. We will talk and we have to get the young guys on board and it will come."

The Duke defense held the game within one for nearly the remainder of the contest, forcing Air Force into a late shot-clock violation. But in the Blue Devils’ last-ditch effort, an offsides call turned the ball back over to the Falcons, who proceeded to run out the clock. 

And after two straight first-round exits in the NCAA tournament, a number of new faces making uncharacteristic mistakes marked the start of Danowski’s 11th year in Durham.

“If [playing a ranked opponent to start the year] was something I had to do over again, I would not do it,” Danowski said. “Now, we need to practice more. We need more practice time. I don’t think I would open up as quickly but with that said, it’s a great barometer for us.” 


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