Tuesday nights typically bring nonconference teams to Koskinen Stadium. However, this brisk Tuesday saw Tobacco Road rivals North Carolina and Duke battling it out.
The No. 14 Blue Devils fell to No. 5 North Carolina 1-0 at Koskinen Stadium, with Tar Heel Jack Skahan's goal in the 56th minute proving to be the difference in the contest. Both teams came ready to play, as the game was fast-paced and intense from the first whistle. North Carolina did its fair share of controlling parts of the game, as did Duke. Both teams played strong defensively and pressured the ball, making it difficult to get into a rhythm.
“It was one of those tough games because both teams were solid and up for it, and both teams defended very well for the first part,” Blue Devil head coach John Kerr said. “And it was going to take one of those fortuitous moments to win the game.”
Duke junior Daniele Proch had an exciting ball off a long kick with an open field ahead in the first three minutes, but was called offside. Duke’s leading goal-scorer only got one shot off on the game, as the Tar Heels' defense had him covered well.
Freshman Issa Rayyan dribbled down the field and juked out the North Carolina defender for the Blue Devils’ first legitimate chance at a goal around the 10-minute mark. He dribbled past the same defender on two separate occasions and drove a shot from the right side of the goal, sending North Carolina goalie James Pyle diving to the ground to block the shot.
The Tobacco Road rivals went back and forth in possession and momentum in the first half, with Duke (9-5-1, 4-3-0 in the ACC) having the sole shot for much of the half. The Blue Devils also secured the first corner of the game and followed it up with a second.
“Their pressure forced us into making mistakes that we normally don’t make. And then when we did have opportunities, we didn’t execute," Kerr said. "We knew if we did get moments in front of their back four or three, that we had to make the most of them. Tonight we didn’t have that extra zip to create open looks at the goal.”
The Tar Heels (12-2-1, 6-1-0) struggled to get anything going on offense, with their first shot coming in the 36th minute of the game. Soon after, North Carolina got a header by Nils Bruening off the team’s first corner of the game that went right to Pulisic. Mauricio Pineda had an opportunity to put the Tar Heels up after that, but shot the ball wide and to the left, sending Pulisic flying to the ground.
Duke’s second shot came in the 41st minute on a header by Nicolas Macri, but Pyle was there and secured the ball after bobbling it to keep the game scoreless.
After a few first-half opportunities, Skahan found the back of the net to give North Carolina the first goal of the game after the break. Skahan and Duke’s Matthias Frick lost sight of a long ball, turning in a circle that drew Pulisic out of the goal, which Skahan took advantage of to tap the ball over Pulisic’s head to put the Tar Heels up 1-0.
“It was a fortuitous bounce for North Carolina and they made the most of it,” Kerr said. “It was a great finish once it fell in their favor...it was a well-finished opportunity for them.”
North Carolina followed that up with another opportunity, as Pulisic got a hand on a shot by Giovanni Montesdeoca to send it flying over the crossbar. Bruening also got another chance to put the Tar Heels up by two. The 6-foot-3 forward caught a header that went just over the bar.
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A free kick by Kristófer Gardarsson brought the Duke fans to their feet as the ball skirted past the opposite side of the goal, with no Blue Devils there to put it into the back of the net. Proch added another goal-scoring opportunity in his first shot with 19 minutes left—an impressive bicycle kick—that went over the goal.
Duke’s defense put on a stellar performance, keeping the Tar Heels from putting up more than one goal. Aedan Stanley had a goal-saving tackle with less than 10 minutes left to keep the Tar Heels from doubling their advantage.
“They’re easily the best team we’ve played so far this year,” Kerr said. “It’s tough keeping them contained because they have so many talented players, they’re up for it and they’re running all over the place. I thought our guys did a really good job containing them for the most part.”
Despite putting a lot of pressure on North Carolina in the final 10 minutes of the game, Duke was not able to find the goal.
“We have to eliminate errors early," Kerr said. "In the first half, we let too many balls go under our foot, or just a touch off base, and they did a good job of recovering the ball from those errors. Taking care of the ball was a main issue. I think we can learn from it, and learn a lot about ourselves.”
Duke will head to Virginia Tech on Friday to top off their regular season with a 7 p.m. ACC game.