Santa Clara may bear the name of jolly old Saint Nick himself, but it was Duke that left the game feeling merry, scoring the game-winning goal deep in the first overtime period.
In their fourth game since Aug. 22 and their third straight against a top-20 team, the Blue Devils put together their strongest offensive game of the regular season, beating the 19th-ranked Broncos 3-2, with all three of their goals coming in the second half or overtime. It was No. 10 Duke’s second overtime game in the span of three days—for comparison, the Blue Devils only had two overtime games all of last season.
“I don’t know who the scheduler was, but he should be fired,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “But I could not be any prouder, I could not be any prouder of us. We’ve obviously struggled scoring goals and we’ve struggled creating opportunities but today we did both. I thought we played one of our best games of the year at times. I thought we possessed the ball, moved the ball, changed our point of attack - we did a lot of really good things.”
With just minutes to go in the match, it looked like Duke would get its second win of the season, after breaking out of their goal-scoring slump. But the soccer gods had other ideas. After Duke nearly scored an own goal on a clear attempt in the box, the Broncos decided to just go ahead and score what seemed like a heart-breaking goal at the time, putting it past Heinsohn in the right side of the net with just under two minutes left to play. The Blue Devils tried to wrap it up in regular time, but couldn’t find the right opportunity and, once again, found themselves playing in overtime.
Three minutes into overtime, a Stevens free kick was nearly headed in but sailed past the goal’s right side. After playing aggressive for the whole second half and into overtime, Pluck finally found another opening, rolling one toward the goal from just inside the box. It may have gotten there on its own, but McGuire was taking no chances, tapping it into the empty net to win the game. The Broncos cried for an offside call, but there was none to be found and the Blue Devils won on a golden goal in the 99th minute.
Early in the season, defense has been the name of the game for Duke, holding its opponents scoreless for two out of the three games the team played before Saturday. But, over the same span, Duke (2-1-1) has been held scoreless themselves. The first half against Santa Clara was much of the same, despite a number of close calls on both sides. The Broncos put the pressure on Duke’s side early, but were unable to convert an opportunity in the eighth minute. After that, Duke had several opportunities of its own, including a free kick right outside the box that sailed into the wall and a stellar cross into the box that would’ve gone into a wide-open goal had someone been able to put a head on it.
The second half, however, was a different story. Perhaps after not playing each other since 1999, the Blue Devils and Broncos just needed to shake a little bit of dust off. Santa Clara (1-3) came out hot, nearly sailing a goal over Duke goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn’s head less than a minute into the half. Nine minutes later, the Broncos drew first blood, putting one past Heinsohn off a cross from the left side that was then headed in by Izzy D’Aquila. But Santa Clara’s lead didn’t last long, with sophomore midfielder Mackenzie Pluck rolling one past the defense into the bottom right corner five-and-a-half minutes later for Duke’s first goal in over 260 minutes of match time.
“I think that goal was needed for everyone,” Pluck said. “We were all kind of in this slump for scoring and one breakthrough was all we needed to get the momentum that we’d been wanting. We just had this ruthless mentality to score and not let up on defense.”
After Pluck’s goal, the Blue Devils looked like a different team, beginning to play a much faster, aggressive game. Pluck nearly scored again just three minutes later, but the ball was just ahead of her. 12 minutes after the first goal, Duke struck again, this time with lone senior starter Ella Stevens finding the back of the net off an assist from sophomore Marykate McGuire. This came just minutes after Stevens was visibly limping across midfield. Stevens nearly scored again in the 80th minute but couldn’t turn around quickly enough in the box after getting mobbed by Broncos.
“Everyone knows that Ella Stevens is a player that really makes us go,” said Church. “Her and Sophie [Jones] in the midfield really make us go, and so she’s marked by a lot of players so there’s not a lot of space for her. We used in her buildup, we used her in forward, but we need her forward. Ella’s just a big-time player so we need to get her in attacking spaces and spaces she can be more dangerous offensively.”
The Blue Devils have been busy recently, but they’ll get their longest break of the season—a whopping four days—before playing again on Thursday at Koskinen Stadium against UNLV.
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