Rocky vs. Apollo. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazer. And Duke vs. North Carolina.
There is no doubt that blows were exchanged in this heavyweight Tobacco Road Rivalry.
The air was a little bit crisper in Durham Thursday night. The fans were a little bit louder. And most of all, the players were a little more pumped up. Tar Heel and Blue Devil fans piled into a cramped Koskinen Stadium eager to tune into a top 15 matchup. After 110 minutes of physical, gritty soccer, No. 11 Duke and No. 3 North Carolina ended in a double overtime 0-0 tie, the third straight double-overtime scoreless tie for the Blue Devils.
“I’m just really proud of how we played. We took a bad injury with Mia [Gyau] since she went out again and Sophie Jones went out last week. [Injuries] just keep coming but this team just is relentless," head coach Robbie Church said of his team's effort. "I don’t know if I can remember coaching a tougher team. The next person just has to step on and play…. We had our moments [to score]. There were times that they were there. Tess was in at that point with time…. We did all we could do”
Duke fans anxiously held their breath throughout the game, wondering why superstar freshman midfielder Sophie Jones had a full brace on her leg. After the contest, Church confirmed that she tore her ACL and will not be returning for the rest of the season. The Blue Devil head coach has made it clear that they have had to do some shuffling to create a new lineup that is capable of filling the void Jones leaves.
To make matters worse, Mia Gyau appeared to have suffered some sort of left leg injury during the second half in which she was unable to walk off without the aid of two trainers.
There was no love lost between these two perennial enemies. Slide tackles, hard fouls, and fallen players were rampant for the duration of the contest. With North Carolina committing 12 fouls and Duke adding on 14 of its own, the intensity was high for the entire match.
The key to the game for the Blue Devils was their outstanding defense. Brooke Heinsohn has put herself on a streak of three straight shutouts.
“She’s been big time. Her presence back there. Her positioning is good. Her kicking game is better than it has been any time of her career,” said Church. “She’s been really pushed by other goalkeepers Ruthie [Jones] especially in training so I think that has really helped her develop. We have confidence in her behind us that if we have a breakdown she is gonna be there to help to be able to cover up. She’s playing at a very high level.”
Heinsohn tallied eight saves, none bigger than her acrobatic leap to deflect a shot over the crossbar to start off the second half. In addition, Heinsohn’s controlled, yet aggressive play style paid dividends.
Numerous times she intercepted what was thought to be a perfectly placed touch pass from a North Carolina attacker. The Tar Heels (11-1-1, 4-0-1 in the ACC) had several promising offensive possessions that seemed to be destined to result in a goal just to have their parade rained on by the Mass. native.
Right alongside Heinsohn in the back of the defense was Sarah Piper. Piper has been nothing short of crucial for this wounded Duke team. She earned her first start two games ago against powerhouse Virginia. In her first home start, Piper showed maturity for someone who was taking graduation pictures just a few months ago.
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“She’s done great. She’s young and sometimes struggles with making that decision, do I play it longer [or] do I play indirect” said Church. “She has been fantastic for us. We had to make the change when Sophie went out.”
The Lone Star State native seemed to have a knack for finding herself in defensive situations where she was outnumbered. Right off the bat, Piper had a beautiful slide tackle in the first 15 minutes of the match to thwart a finesse pass from a hopeful Tar Heel. In addition, Piper was dedicated to making sure the leading North Carolina scorer, Brianna Pinto, was not going to find the back of the net, something that Pinto has made a habit of.
She also did her part in contributing to the overall physicality of the game, as she picked up a yellow card late in the second half.
The Blue Devils (6-1-5, 1-0-4)struggled in creating offense. In 110 minutes, they only mustered up three shots on goal and from the second half on, North Carolina spent the majority of the time controlling the ball, threatening to score.
Mackenzie Pluck had a few promising runs set up by her fancy footwork and Marykate McGuire missed the bottom right corner by inches on a left footed ground ball. Ella Stevens looked to create some offense with several nice finesse passes from midfield, but all the Blue Devil efforts proved to be futile.
Duke will rest until Sunday, when it will play host to Clemson in what is sure to be another down to the wire ACC matchup. With the ACC tournament coming just around the corner, every game matters. Expect tough and determined play from the Blue Devils throughout the season in their hopes to make a splash in the NCAA tournament.