After struggling in the first few games of ACC play, Duke needed everything to fall in its favor Saturday night.

In what was arguably the Blue Devils’ toughest matchup of the season, No. 15 Duke fell to top-ranked Wake Forest 4-2 Saturday night at W. Dennie Spry Soccer Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., after it gave up three goals in the second half.

“It was a tough game. They’re a well-drilled machine,” head coach John Kerr told GoDuke.com. “But we had our moments, when we played very well, and then we made some costly mistakes at the wrong times, and they punished us.”

Taking down any No. 1-seeded team requires nearly zero margin for error. But the Demon Deacons (10-0-0, 4-0-0 in the ACC) aren’t just any top-seed. With an average margin of victory over two goals, Wake Forest has been smashing opponents through the first stretch of the season. Knowing full well of the offensive power they were up against Saturday night, the Blue Devils came out of the gates with paramount defensive focus.

In the first thirty minutes alone, the Demon Deacons had three corner kicks and four shot opportunities. However, all of them were either blocked or saved by Duke’s strong defensive line.

Despite Duke’s remarkable counter to Wake Forest’s gifted offense, it was unable to capitalize for much of the first half—like the Demon Deacons, it too had four shots blocked or saved.

Failing to finish and take advantage of offensive opportunities has been the story for the Blue Devils (4-3-1, 1-2-0) for most of September. With the exception of a 3-2 victory against Boston College, Duke’s scoring drought in the month of September included shutout losses to Louisville and Georgetown, and a double-overtime scoreless draw to George Washington, which saw the Blue Devils fail to convert on each of their 29 shots.

Duke got on the board first in the 40th minute, when a corner kick by sophomore forward Daniel Wright was headed in at the far post by senior midfielder Ciaran McKenna, his second goal of the season for the Blue Devils.

It seemed Duke’s game plan was working. But just two minutes later, Wake Forest’s freshman midfielder Isaiah Parente put in a header off a cross from junior Alistair Johnston for his first goal of the season, knotting the match at 1-1. Despite a nearly perfect half played by the Blue Devils, the scoreboard seemingly had nothing to show for it.

“It was disappointing because we put some great pressure on them in the first half,” Kerr said. “We forced them to cough up the ball, and we didn’t take advantage of it. Scoring the first goal was great for us, but giving a goal right before halftime really killed our spirits.”

Coming out of the locker room, the Demon Deacons had newfound momentum. Turning defense into offense, Wake Forest’s Parente found the ball off a Duke corner kick and pushed it up the field to midfielder Omir Fernandez, who broke away from the defense and maneuvered around the goalkeeper to score in the 53rd minute. Then, in the 66th minute, Wake Forest’s leading scorer, midfielder Bruno Lama, scored off a give-and-go with Logan Gdula to push its advantage to 3-1.

Despite the two goal gap, the Blue Devils still had some fight. Multiple shots on goal were fired, but to no avail. Then, in perhaps what may have determined the match, midfielder Daniele Proch was called offside in what would have been a goal off the cross bar to put the Blue Devils within one. Coach Kerr stated postgame that the film clearly showed Proch onside, and that the goal would have given Duke momentum and perhaps changed the story of the second half.

Proch—Duke’s leading scorer—was able to punch in a penalty kick in the 75th minute to give the Blue Devils their second goal and a final chance of staining the Demon Deacons perfect record, but a goal by Wake Forest forward Machop Chol five minutes later put the match away.

“[The loss] is frustrating, but we can take a lot out of this game,” Kerr said. “This is the number one team in the country, away from home, and our guys played well. We just got to get back on track; we got a good, young group, and I feel there’s more to come for us.”

With half of conference play wrapped up, Duke looks toward the second half of ACC play with a focus on finishing near the goal and taking advantage of the offensive opportunities they are given. The Blue Devils will first host a nonconference match against Wofford at 7 p.m. Oct. 2  before taking on their next ACC opponent, Virginia, Oct. 5.