Facing an opponent 1,600 miles from home and one mile above sea level, the Blue Devils hit the road looking to take on an opponent in both hostile and physically treacherous territory.
Thanks to an early scoring explosion, Duke was able to brave the altitude and head home flying high on the heels of a top-10 win.
No. 13 Duke took down No. 9 Denver 15-13 Saturday afternoon at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium in Denver. Thanks to a quick 7-2 lead in the first quarter coming from six different scorers, the Blue Devils had enough space to hold the Pioneers off down the stretch to come away with a much-needed win.
"It was a total team effort," head coach John Danowski said. "It wasn't about beating your man and scoring your goal, it was about making the right play. We had seven different guys scoring goals, and guys were very unselfish and were making the right play."
After freshman Dyson Williams knotted the score 2-2 in the opening five minutes of play, the Blue Devils (2-1) put on an absolute clinic of near-perfect ball movement to leave the home team reeling with a hit it could not recover from.
Taking advantage of sluggish legs from Denver's defenders, junior Nakeie Montgomery fired the Duke offense up with a hard role and dive to net, blazing past his man to set up an over-the-top rocket right past the goalkeeper.
Sluggishness continued to haunt the Pioneers, as immediately after the Blue Devils found the back of the neck, Duke's backline swarmed and forced an easy turnover. From there, senior Joey Manown opted to try his own hand at an isolation play with a bomb of his own, splitting Denver's defense to give Duke a two-goal lead.
Over the last five minutes of the quarter, the Blue Devils were relentless, taking advantage of man-up opportunities and efficient team ball to keep the momentum going. Sophomore Owen Caputo, who was the first Blue Devil to add a tally to the ledger, was largely responsible for the early burst, notching two back-to-back assists to help build Duke's five-point cushion.
Though the Blue Devils certainly looked more than ready to play in the opening quarter, Duke needed every point from its early cushion to hold off a Denver squad that refused to be embarrassed on its home turf.
The second and third quarter were back-and-forth affairs, with Pioneer junior Jack Hannah spearheading a lethargic Denver offense. Hannah ended the evening with six goals on 11 shots, near singlehandedly keeping the Blue Devils from running away with the game.
"We've got to keep playing," Danowski said. "The game is about 60 minutes, it's not about what's on the scoreboard. Your opponent is going to keep fighting, which they did."
However, whether it was the thinner atmosphere or simple exhaustion from a high-energy start, the Blue Devils' incredibly hot hand began to cool off quickly, giving the Pioneers the opening they needed to come just shy of an improbable comeback.
Denver (1-1) opened the final 15 minutes with two quick goals, both assisted by Ethan Walker. As the Blue Devils scrambled to maintain their lead, Manown and Caputo both came up huge with crucial individual plays to ice the game. Both players played an incredibly aggressive stretch of offense, going straight at the net to connect on their own isolation drives. Although Denver was able to put the ball in the net two more times down the stretch, it was too little too late to match up with the Blue Devils' hot start.
"It's a terrific win for these guys," Danowski said. "On the road, cross country, altitude, all those things that can be distracting didn't appear to be today."
Duke will have nearly a week off before taking on Penn at a neutral site in Charlotte Saturday.
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