The first goal of Caitlin Cosme's career and the second goal of Julia Hannon's career powered Duke to victory Sunday afternoon, certainly not exactly the way Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church drew it up.
No. 9 Duke celebrated Senior Day at Koskinen Stadium by starting with a ceremony honoring the Class of 2020 and ended with a 4-1 victory against Syracuse in a game that was far less easy than the final score would suggest.
“I mean they scored first and then obviously we had to come back from it,” said Church. “I mean, [we] scored four straight goals. [But] you can see, we’re a tired team. A lot of people are tired this time of year. But I thought we really pushed through in the 2nd half and really played on their half of the field.”
Just describing this game in halves as Church did may be oversimplifying things.
The first 15 minutes of the match were dominated by the Blue Devils, with nearly all that time spent on the Orange side of the pitch. Shot opportunities abounded—the first six minutes included three passes that put forwards with one-on-ones or other high-quality shots, but none connected. More penalty free kicks went for naught. And within a span of three minutes, Duke's Mackenzie Pluck was called offsides twice on long passes that would have left her one-on-one with the opposing goalie.
Then things got weird.
After the second offside call, Duke (8-1-7, 3-0-6 in the ACC) didn’t look nearly as dominant. Syracuse (3-11-2, 1-7-1) got the ball into the Blue Devil box, where it jumbled around until it found one of the Orange in the upper right corner of the box, with no fewer than four defenders and a goalie standing between her and the net, but the Orange's Sydney Brackett put it past them all, giving Syracuse a 1-0 lead.
After the goal, adjustments from Church would pay off immediately. Duke set up a corner kick in the 35th minute when Karlie Paschall found Cosme on a header for an equalizing goal.
Some more uneven play would send the game into halftime knotted up at one, but the Blue Devils came out of halftime reenergized. In the 56th minute, Marykate McGuire found Julia Hannon inside the box, who turned around, calmly took in the wildly cheering crowd and observed that there were too many defenders for her to drive farther in, and shot a crosser as hard as she could.
The crowd went silent, as the ball crossed too far in front of the goalie for a save, then rebounded off the left post, but the ball caromed behind the goalie and sank into the right inside of the net. The home crowd went wild with Duke now up 2-1.
“It’s funny, because I was actually out for three weeks due to a little knee injury, but that injury actually made me hungrier and wanting to score goals, actually," Hannon said.
A shot from 40 yards out by Tess Boade and a goal from McGuire put the game on ice for the Blue Devils. The briefly shaky period in the first half was a distant memory, as the lone senior starter Stevens was subbed out to a round of applause, and fellow senior Mackenzie Coles was subbed in to close out as goalie to thunderous cheers.
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“Ella, she's a fantastic player,” said Coach Church. “She's one of the best players that has played here, that has put on a uniform for women's soccer.... You know, her work, her passion—her love for the game, to spread within the team for a love of the game. So, we will miss Ella, but we're not done yet.”
The Blue Devils have just one more regular season matchup on the slate, playing at Florida State Thursday, before heading into ACC and NCAA tournament play.