That's all the time that stood between Duke and forcing overtime in its last matchup against Florida State, and the Blue Devils haven’t lost in overtime since the 2017 College Cup semifinals. But, unfortunately for Duke, it was in those remaining 14 seconds that the Seminoles were able to break through and deny the Blue Devils that ever-elusive signature win.
However, just weeks later, Duke finds itself with an opportunity for redemption. An opportunity to put that regular-season loss in the past. An opportunity to move on to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2017 and only the second time since 2000. And an opportunity to secure that signature win and cement its status as one of the elite soccer programs in the country.
No pressure, you know?
No. 5 seed Duke will look to make the most of those opportunities Friday at 5:30 p.m. against No. 1 seed Florida State in Cary, N.C. After upsetting Clemson for the second time this season—this time via senior Karlie Paschall's first goal since 2018—in the ACC quarterfinals Tuesday, the Blue Devils will come in with momentum. Still, Duke will have to kick it into another gear if it wants to snap its three-game losing streak to the Seminoles.
In the two teams' last matchup Oct. 29, the Blue Devils (7-3-2, 4-2-2 in the ACC) were outshot 19-4, though only 5-3 in shots on goal thanks to one of the most disruptive defenses in the country. But in win-or-go-home situations, you have to score some goals.
As Duke just discovered against Clemson, sometimes those goals come from the players you wouldn’t expect, something that's been a theme for the Blue Devils this season. Two of the top goal-scorers from last year—juniors Marykate McGuire and Mackenzie Pluck—haven’t made quite the same dent in the box score this year, though McGuire does lead the team in total points. Pluck is still in search of her first goal of the season, and she would surely love to get it against Florida State (9-0, 8-0) after two near-misses in her last encounter with the Seminoles.
The Blue Devils may be able to make it to the ACC Championship without that go-to player on offense, someone they can turn to when they’re in desperate need of a spark on the attack. They may even be able to secure the ACC title without that player, riding their defense to victory. But come spring season and the NCAA tournament, however that looks, someone will need to step up if Duke wants to make its way back to the College Cup.
But disregarding the long term and who's scoring goals, a top priority for Duke Friday will be to start the game well and come out strong. Season after season, the Blue Devils find themselves as a second-half team, despite head coach Robbie Church’s desire to always break the spirit of the opponent early in the match. And against Clemson, Duke could get away with allowing itself to adjust in-game. After all, it was the first postseason game for all of the freshmen.
But Florida State is a different beast. The defensive mistakes that the Blue Devils were able to recover from against Clemson? The Seminoles will turn them into opportunities. The near-misses that the Tigers couldn’t quite convert on? Florida State will find the one spot where the ball can slip past Duke goalie Ruthie Jones, just as it did only a couple weeks ago.
So come Friday night, we should have some answers to the questions that the Blue Devils have been wrestling with all season: Can they put together a strong game from start to finish? Can their offense find someone they can fall back on? Can they secure a signature win? And can they finally prove themselves as one of the elite programs in the country, rather than just on the outside of that bubble?
If the answers to these questions are yes, then you’ll see Duke in the ACC Championship Game, likely facing off against No. 2 seed North Carolina for the third time this season (though No. 3 seed Virginia shouldn’t be discounted after a dominant win in its ACC quarterfinal match against Louisville).
If the answers to those questions remain no, the Blue Devils will simply have to look forward to the spring for a chance to flip those answers.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.