Duke’s season came to an end Saturday night after falling in penalty kicks to Fordham in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.
The sixth-seeded Blue Devils forced the Rams to play catch-up the whole game at Koskinen Stadium, striking early and never falling behind. But a late goal for Fordham tied the game at 2-2, and after two scoreless overtimes, the match headed to penalty kicks. A save by Rams goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu in the 10th round of the shootout sent the team to the Elite Eight.
“It hurts. Penalties is just a sour way to end a game,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. "It’s difficult to take. We had the game in control for 90 minutes and in overtime, but they hung around and they fought.”
The Blue Devils (13-4-3) started off strong in the shootout when freshman goalkeeper Will Pulisic made a diving stop off junior Janos Loebe’s shot toward the bottom right corner of the goal.
Duke’s Daniele Proch and Brian White buried the team’s first two penalties, both finding the bottom left corner of the goal past the outstretched arms of Nuhu. The third Blue Devil to step up wasn’t so lucky, with Nuhu kicking away Kristófer Gardarsson’s shot toward the bottom right of the goal. Senior defender Markus Fjørtoft was up next, sending one past Nuhu to the bottom left of the net and evening the tally at 3-3.
Fordham (14-5-3) made its second, third and fourth penalty kicks—Nuhu even took a successful turn at the penalty spot—before senior Jannik Loebe’s shot bounced off the crossbar, giving the Blue Devils a chance to win the shootout and the match in the fifth round. But senior Carter Manley’s shot was rejected by Nuhu, extending the Rams’ season and sending the shootout to sudden death rounds.
Both teams were perfect through four more nerve-wracking repetitions until the 10th round of penalty kicks.
Jordan Black, Fordham’s senior backup goalie, stepped up to take the first penalty kick of his collegiate career. Black, who has not played a minute in goal this season for the Rams, shot one past Pulisic to give Fordham the advantage.
“When it came to penalty kicks, we were confident,” Black said. “My coach asked me, ‘Do you want one?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take one.’ Stepped up, had my moment. I may not have played in many games in my career, but I’ll remember that for the rest of my life."
The Blue Devils had to find the back of the net to stay alive, but sophomore Max Moser’s strike toward the right side was stopped by Nuhu.
“Their keeper made a great save at the end on Max,” Kerr said. “I feel bad for Max, I’m really sorry for him.”
Duke struck first in the match when White found the back of the net in the eighth minute. The Flemington, N.J., native headed a pass from Moser past Nuhu into the right side of the goal to give the Blue Devils the early 1-0 lead.
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Duke controlled possession for most of the first 45 minutes, but did not find the back of the net for the rest of the first half while tallying a total of nine shots and two corner kicks.
Fordham came out aggressively following the break and saw some opportunities early in the second half, logging its first shot of the game and taking two corner kicks in the first three minutes, though it was not able to put them in the back of the net.
The early pressure paid off for the Rams in the 51st minute, when Jannik Loebe notched his eighth goal of the season. After controlling a pass from sophomore midfielder Bart Dziedzic in the 18-yard box, Loebe turned toward the goal and ripped a shot past a diving Pulisic to find the bottom right corner.
It didn’t take long for Duke to regain the lead. In the 63rd minute, a corner kick from Moser put the ball into a crowded six-yard box, where freshman defender Matthias Frick got a foot on it to tap the ball into the goal. Nuhu tried to pull in the ball as it rolled across the line, but it was determined to be a goal after a review, giving Frick his second score of the season and putting the Blue Devils in front.
Kerr wanted to see his team establish a more secure lead.
“I wanted the third goal, candidly,” Kerr said. “I was trying to push for the third goal, and I thought we had a couple of good opportunities to create the third goal, but the last pass just didn’t make it or the last shot.”
Duke held on to the one-goal advantage until the last three minutes of regulation. Dziedzic got on the end of a long lofted blast from sophomore defender Joergen Oland and found room to run up the left side. Cutting toward the goal, Dziedzic drew Pulisic off the goal line.
With two Blue Devil defenders and Pulisic moving toward the ball, a fortunate bounce and deflection sent it over the diving goalkeeper. A left-footed tap from Dziedzic was all it took to send the ball into the back of the net and tie the game.
“I think it was just miscommunication, a bit unlucky—the ball bounces in their way and not ours. That’s soccer. You love it and it gives you so much, but it also robs you of everything sometimes and it feels so unfair," Fjørtoft said. "That’s the beauty and the curse of the game.”
After two 10-minute periods of overtime, the two teams headed to the decisive marathon penalty shootout.
The game marked the end of Duke's first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2011 and its first time in the Round of 16 since 2009. When the Blue Devils met Fordham earlier this season, they beat the Rams 3-0. Fordham will advance to face No. 3 seed North Carolina in the Elite Eight.
For Fjørtoft, whose first and last NCAA tournament game was Saturday night, the tough loss also showed how far the program has come.
“I’m really optimistic, because there’s just a whole different culture change. From turning around a disappointing season last year to this, it’s incredible,” Fjørtoft said. “I know we’ll bounce back, and I’ll live vicariously through them and help in any way I can. But right now it’s disappointing, of course. Very, very disappointing.”