CHAPEL HILL—Though Tar Heel men's basketball fans were having their fun at the Late Night with Roy scrimmage that kicks off their hoops season, it was the Blue Devil men's soccer team who really had themselves a party in Chapel Hill Friday night.
Duke took down 14th-ranked North Carolina at UNC Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium 3-2 in a breathtaking comeback. The win not only ended the Blue Devils' three-game losing streak but also marked Duke's first victory in Chapel Hill since 1999.
“It feels good. It is about time,” Blue Devil head coach Kerr said. “We had a bad fortune playing against this group. It’s nice to be on the winning side. It’s been a while [since we last won].”
The game started out rough for Duke, as the new defensive line struggled to put themselves together. Graduate student Sergi Nus was out of action due to an injury and sophomore Ian Murphy was suspended for his red card against Clemson. In the first 25 minutes of the match, Tar Heel strikers Alex Rose and Jelani Pieters each buried a shot in Duke’s goal. The freefall for the Blue Devils seemed to be continuing.
In a moment of desperation, senior midfielder Brandon Williamson stepped up and saved the night. He finished the contest with an assist and his first goal of the season.
Just one minute after North Carolina’s second goal, Williamson found junior Daniel Wright wide open on the right flank, as all the Tar Heels (4-2-2, 2-1 in the ACC) were packed in the box. Wright then swiftly drove towards the goal and fired the ball into the top left corner of the net before any Carolina defender could interfere. This was Wright's first goal of the season.
“Big time. Not only that but [to] get it before halftime lifted us quite a bit,” Kerr commented on the goal. “Going into a locker room 2-0 down is a lot different than going in 2-1 down. I thought, 'We can go on and win this game if we are up for it.' And I asked the boys if they felt the same way as I did. They looked at me and they agreed in their eyes that they could do something.”
The Blue Devils (5-3, 1-2) did manage to turn the game around. In the 57th minute, Williamson initiated some quick offense from the middle third. His long pass found senior Daniele Proch on the left wing, who skillfully wheeled through three defenders before sending a cross on the ground to the middle of the field. Williamson arrived in the right time at the right place to tie the game with a forceful one-touch shot.
“It’s great. It makes me feel fantastic to score against UNC in the first place. But to tie it up, to put us back in [makes it even better],” Williamson said. “Scoring my first season goal against UNC—I mean, that’s nice. I can’t really complain about that. I wouldn't want it against any other team.”
Five minutes after the equalizer, freshman striker Scotty Taylor capitalized on a turnover from Tar Heel defender Matthew Constant. In the follow-up one-on-one against the netminder, Taylor calmly sent the ball inside the near post to put Duke on top. With that goal, the freshman became the second Blue Devil this season, after Proch, to score at least twice.
The rest of the game was filled with collisions, fouls and trolling from the home crowd, reminding people of the fierce nature of the Tobacco Road rivalry. Duke committed a season-high 18 fouls and three different Blue Devils received a yellow card in the game. The whole team was focused on the defensive end, as front-line attackers Wright and Max Moser frequently retreated to help out the defenders.
“I’m glad that they put a great second half together because they deserve to win, they deserve all the three goals they got,” Kerr remarked. “They defended like crazy, which was something that we were missing.”
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Duke’s hustle paid dividends as the efficient Carolina offense struggled to force an opening. The Tar Heels had their best opportunity in the 68th minute when a Hassan Pinto tackle gave them a free kick right outside the box. Team captain Mauricio Pineda struck a curling ball that flew above the fingertips of Duke goalie Will Pulisic, only to be saved by the woodwork.
But the Blue Devils also paid the price for the aggression. Two key defenders, junior Matthias Frick, and sophomore Aedan Stanley went down in the box after collisions with the opponents in the last five minutes. The extent of the injuries is still unknown at the moment, though the defensive line will likely change again with Murphy’s return and Nus’ potential recovery in the upcoming week.
“We knew that this was the kind of game that we needed to come out." Williamson said. "We needed to get the 'dub' because we can take this win, and it’s the energy for the next game.”
How the team will perform next Tuesday at Koskinen against Wright State and into the thick of ACC play is uncertain. But one thing is for sure: the first win on North Carolina’s home field in 20 years is more than enough motivation a Blue Devil needs to survive the midterm season.