It had been over 30 years since Stanford had played the Blue Devils in Durham, and that ended in a 1-0 Duke loss.
And with less than 30 minutes to go, Duke rewrote history on its home field.
In their biggest test of the season, the Blue Devils secured their lead midway through the second half, and didn’t look back, taking down No. 10 Stanford 2-1 at Koskinen Stadium for their fifth-straight win to start the season—the best start since 2000 and in head coach Robbie Church's tenure.
“[We’re] proud of that mark,” Church said of their 5-0 record. “But [we’re] also proud of how we got there—we beat some really good teams. And this is one of the toughest nonconference schedules that we've had. We needed this win. We’ve had a lot of really quality wins over the last two to three years. But we haven't really had what we feel is a signature win against a big, elite team in the country. And this was to get that.”
Coming into the second half, the Blue Devils (5-0) had the lead and looked to have the momentum. And through the first 20 minutes, that remained true. But in soccer, it only takes a moment for everything to change.
Stanford (3-1) took over the ball at midfield and the Cardinal’s Naomi Girma found herself with the ball just above Duke’s penalty box. She fired off a rocket that curved perfectly into the top-right corner—there was nothing Duke’s goalie Ruthie Jones could have done.
After 40 minutes of maintaining the lead, the wind had been knocked out of the Blue Devils’ sails. But this group isn’t so easily deterred.
Three minutes later, Duke fired back with a rocket of their own. After a Stanford foul just outside the box, the Blue Devils found themselves with a perfectly positioned free kick. Duke’s set-piece goal-scorer extraordinaire from last year, Caitlin Cosme, stepped up to the mark. And mere minutes after Stanford’s beautiful goal, Cosme created her own, curving the ball perfectly into the goal, handing the Blue Devils back the momentum and the lead.
“I feel like all the goals that I've scored, we don't practice those at practice,” Cosme said after her free-kick beauty. “After practice, [we might] take like three or four - they’re never like that, let me tell you. They're usually shanks [or] they're hitting our own players. But I said at least one of them has to go in. I've been working on that shot for three years now hoping that one of them will go in and tonight it worked out.”
Duke had reclaimed its lead and their rhythm, just as Duke’s marching band—playing at a game for the first time since 2020—was finding its rhythm in the stands.
The last 20 minutes of the second resembled the last 20 of the first, with each team recording a number of shots, but neither finding much footing. But for Duke, it didn’t matter—all it needed was to make it to the 90-minute mark without giving up another goal. And its defense delivered.
“This is the first time we’ve played Stanford in a long time,” graduate student Tess Boade said. “But to have them come all the way across the country, a top-10 matchup and to just give it to them—obviously, having it get tied up was a bit stressful, but we knew the whole time we were going to come back and score and Caitlin coming big time on that—it felt great. And having our fans, oh my gosh; last year, no fans to celebrate big wins. It feels so great to look up there [and] hear people screaming, chanting, it's amazing.”
The Cardinal had opened up the match with a quick blitz, but the Blue Devils quickly settled into their typical rhythm, dominating possession through the first five minutes. But the momentum quickly switched to the Cardinal, and it only took a few minutes before they found the first shot of the match—a near goal that was saved not by Duke’s goalie Ruthie Jones, but by senior defender Delaney Graham who happened to find herself in perfect position to prevent the score.
The next 15 minutes featured a back-and-forth between the two juggernauts, but in the 22nd minute the Blue Devils found their opening. And who better to capitalize on that than freshman Michelle Cooper, Duke’s gift that keeps on giving through the beginning of the season.
After an overhead bounced off a Stanford centre back, Cooper found the ball at her feet and took the opportunity, putting it past Stanford’s goalie Katie Meyer, who's famous for her performance in the 2019 National Championship game.
The rest of the half continued without much fanfare from either team, but the Duke defense did what they needed to do, i.e. prevent a Stanford offense that’s been prolific through their first three games from scoring.
Now with the Stanford game behind them and their elite status solidified, Duke will get a week break before taking on East Carolina at Koskinen Stadium at 7 p.m. next Thursday.
“I think it's gonna build a lot of confidence,” Church said of the win. “We've gotta turn this around to play East Carolina and then turn around and have Carolina and Virginia afterwards. So I think it's going to build a lot of confidence in our program when we go into those programs. Just really proud of [the team].”
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