In so many ways, the final 30 seconds of Duke’s game against Denver could have ended in heartbreak. All afternoon, turnovers and poor decision making from the Blue Devils’ younger players left them in an early hole that the Pioneers capitalized on.
And after a monstrous three goals from Joe Robertson sparked a comeback that could have seemingly put the game away, two more turnovers from Duke knotted the score 9-9 with 19 seconds left to play. With such a slim chance of breaking through Denver’s defense, the Blue Devils opted to go for the groundball and draw a foul heading into overtime to try and take the game in extra minutes.
But junior Joey Manown had other ideas.
The Blue Devils won the face-off and passed to Cade Van Raaphorst, but the senior fumbled the ball deep in Denver territory. Manown swooped in before the Pioneer defenders could box out and rocketed a slicer right between the legs of Denver’s keeper, putting the Blue Devils up for good with just seven seconds left on the clock.
No. 8 Duke took down No. 5 Denver 10-9 Saturday afternoon in a Koskinen stadium thriller. Despite turnovers and poor draw control plaguing the Blue Devils early, a tenacious effort on both sides of the ball in the second half set the home team up for Manown’s showstopper.
“I’ve never been so excited for one of my teammates to miss a pass,” Manown said. “It rolled right at me. I didn’t even look at the net, I picked it up and shot. The key to the victory was great play and ground balls.”
Down by three in the fourth quarter and facing a possible second straight home loss, the Blue Devils needed a miracle to break apart one of the nation’s most disciplined defenses. And that miracle came from Robertson.
After the Blue Devils (3-1) found a new gear with a full shutdown of Denver’s possessions, Robertson received a ground ball from JT Giles-Harris and flew through the Pioneer backline to bring the game within two. Just 20 seconds later, the Blue Devils found yet another turnover that the sophomore attackman converted with ease. And then, Robertson left Koskinen rocking thanks to capitalizing on yet another turnover, knotting the score 7-7 and forcing a Denver timeout.
From there, the Blue Devils took control, hounding the Pioneer defense and locking down on Denver’s counterattacks. Garrett Leadmon and Kevin Quigley contributed a goal apiece to build the lead to two with three minutes left. But Pioneer Matt Neufeldt caught an errant behind-the-back pass from Duke freshman Jordan Ginder, which was easily sent to the back of the net by Ellis Geis.
Despite the brief momentum drop, the Blue Devils looked in control heading into the final seconds of the match, forcing an out of bounds turnover and getting the ball with less than 40 seconds on the game clock. But Duke’s Wilson Stephenson lost control of the ball bringing it up the field, setting Denver’s Jack Hannah for a cross to Alex Simmons for a game-tying goal, setting the stage for Manown’s heroics.
“We were just going try to muck it up,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “We were going to try and draw a foul off a ground ball, maybe the foul would carry over into overtime, and the gameplan wasn’t to win it in those last few seconds. The plan was just fight for the ball and see what happens, and not foul them. The ball just bounced our way.”
Although the Blue Devils came away with the win, Duke struggled through much of the match.
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All afternoon, the Blue Devils looked out of sorts against Denver’s meticulous style of play. Although Duke created opportunities off of fast-break turnovers and high-tempo offense, the Blue Devils looked sloppy against the Pioneers’ stifling defense. Multiple promising pushes from Duke came up short due to errant passes, with the Blue Devils recording 22 turnovers for the afternoon. These turnovers directly contributed to Denver’s offensive success over the first three periods, with the Pioneers (1-1) taking as much as a four-goal lead.
“They were all over us,” Danowski said. “We knew what was coming but unfortunately things we were practicing we did not execute. We were disappointed at halftime. You tip your cap at your opponent, but we knew what was coming and we didn’t do a good job of handling it. Defensively, every possession was a battle. Our kids fought and played really well together.”
The Blue Devils continue their home slate next Saturday against Penn.