Duke led for nearly 51 minutes in its 2020 season opener, but in the end, the only score that matters is the one when the clock hits zero.
And Saturday afternoon, it was Air Force that came out on top.
The Falcons squeaked by the seventh-ranked Blue Devils 14-13 at Koskinen Stadium, powered by a 4-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter. Duke won the face off battle 21-9 and out-shot Air Force 47-26 throughout the contest, but when the game was close, the Blue Devils just couldn’t get it done.
“The Duke kids get tight when the game is close versus an opponent that quote you’re supposed to beat,” head coach John Danowski said. “They don’t have fun. They don’t enjoy it. I think the Air Force kids were having a blast. They were having a lot of fun in the fourth quarter and I think our guys played really tight.”
Duke (0-1) led 12-10 with just under 12 minutes left to play, far from an ideal position against an unranked opponent, but still in control of the game. It was then that the team started to unravel.
The Falcons’ run started with 10 minutes left, when senior Jake Thornally found an inch of space against his defender and slung the ball in the back of the net to cut Air Force’s deficit to one. Three minutes later, another senior, Doc Szlachetka, sprinted his way right through the Blue Devil defense, bouncing it in to knot up the score at 12.
The visiting squad’s entire sideline proceeded to flood the field following the game-tying goal, the Falcons’ sudden confidence taking everyone by surprise. But it wasn’t long until Air Force (1-0) struck again.
With just under three minutes remaining, junior Quincy Peene wrapped around toward the middle of the field, brought his stick back and fired in what would end up being the game-winner, raising his arms in triumph as he walked back the other way.
From there, the Falcons made smart use of the shot clock, taking their time with their offensive sets. Duke had an opportunity with 90 seconds left, but a Sean Lowrie pass right in front of the cage was deflected into the stick of an Air Force defender. Not too long later, freshman Brandon Dodd scored to put the Falcons up 14-12 with just 48 seconds left.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Peene and Dodd scored the final two goals for the Falcons—they carried Air Force’s offense throughout the entire day. Peene posted four goals and one assist, while Dodd added four goals and four assists in his first collegiate appearance. The pair either scored or assisted on 11 of the team’s 14 goals.
“They made the plays that were available to them,” Danowski said of Peene and Dodd. "They didn’t force the ball, they didn’t force situations, they were very confident and very comfortable with the ball in their stick.
“With that being said, a couple times we had some of our younger guys—Kenny Brower’s a freshman and Frank Marinello’s a sophomore, it was their first start for both of them and it looked like it at times. But we have great faith in them and the hope is that they’ll mature and get better with more game experience and more time.”
The Blue Devils had one final opportunity in the contest’s final seconds. After freshman Dyson Williams scored with just seven seconds left, Danowski called timeout with a game-deciding face off on the way. The Falcons would win the face off and storm the field, the upset victory finally in the books.
Duke started off the contest hot, with the game initially appearing like it would be a blowout in favor of the Blue Devils. Danowski’s squad scored three goals in the first 3:13 of action, eventually shooting out to a 5-0 advantage by the seven-minute mark of the first quarter.
But Air Force would fight back, never letting Duke pull too far ahead. The Blue Devils went into halftime up 9-5, with their edge cut to just 11-9 by the end of the third quarter.
“I don’t know that anything really changed,” Danowski said of what happened after his team’s early lead. “Air Force kept playing and they made plays. The circle offense is a little difficult to prepare for, but you got to tip your cap again to John Grant—their offensive coach—and [head coach Bill] Wilson for doing a terrific job with their kids.”
Senior Joey Manown led Duke with three goals and five total points.
Next, the Blue Devils prepare for a road matchup at High Point, which, coincidentally, was the unranked foe that took down a second-ranked Duke in its 2019 home opener almost a year ago. Those Blue Devils ended up bouncing back from that defeat to make the Final Four. Time will only tell what lessons this year’s team can take away from this loss.
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