In their final home game of the regular season, the Blue Devils accomplished what eluded them all of last season—they took down the Seminoles, marking their biggest win of the year and arguably the biggest in program history.
Coming into the day, Florida State was riding a 15-game unbeaten streak, with only its most recent matchup against the Tar Heels resulting in something other than a win.
But the Blue Devils weren’t intimidated by their record and, in stark contrast from the game plan Duke implemented the last time the two teams faced off, the Blue Devils were the aggressors, looking for offense early and often. They found it in the first half and fended off the Seminole comeback attempt in the second to take down No. 1 Florida State 1-0 Sunday at Koskinen Stadium—their first win against the Seminoles since 2017 and first over a top-ranked team since 2005.
“We've had great games with them, we've had heartbreaking games—we’ve had heartbreaking losses,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said of playing Florida State. “And I think we were just like, ‘Okay, enough’s enough. It's time for us to step up here, to be able to match them.’ A lot of times we changed things for Florida State; we play a different way, we drop a little deeper, we do a couple [different] things. We didn't change anything [today]—we just went out and we felt like we could go toe to toe with them.”
After a number of looks on goal, including an opportunity in the 15th minute where a slightly quicker Tess Boade turn would have likely resulted in a score, the Blue Devils found their chance in the 26th minute. Sophomore Emily Royson was streaking along the right sideline before sending the ball forward toward the Florida State box, looking like it was on its way to star striker Michelle Cooper. But, if you thought that, you’d be just as fooled as Florida State was.
With a stunning amount of awareness for anyone, but especially a freshman, Cooper let the ball roll right past her, where it found a wide-open Boade at the top of the box, who sent a rocket toward the center of the goal. Florida State goalie Mia Justus got a hand on it, but not enough to stop either the ball’s momentum or Duke’s.
In a span of seconds, the Blue Devils reversed years of bad luck against the Seminoles, as they scored their first goal against Florida State since 2017.
“Having Michelle [Cooper] and [Mackenzie] Pluck up there in such good form is just freeing and allow[s] me to kind work off the ball and have time and space for goals.,” said Boade, who came up with the game-winner against North Carolina earlier in the season too. “It's honestly less about anything I've done. It's just more that I've got two amazing players up there to work off of and they are creating incredible chances for me, so we just [have] to keep putting them away.”
The rest of the first half saw more possession from Florida State in Duke’s third after the substitutes came in, but little came of the possession, with just two Seminole shots coming in the last 19 minutes, neither particularly threatening. The Duke defense, highlighted by the play of sophomore Nicky Chico, continued to come up big, making the necessary stops, saves and tackles needed to get the Blue Devils into halftime with the advantage.
Florida State came out in a strong opening press, but an early Duke run into the Florida State box broke open the field early for the Blue Devils and, after that, Duke (12-2-1, 6-2-1 in the ACC) looked like a team on a mission, putting up more shots in the first 20 minutes than they had in the 110 they’d last played against the Seminoles in last year's NCAA tournament. Florida State (14-1-1, 7-1-1) put up shots of its own, but if you had missed the entirety of the season up to this point, you’d think the Blue Devils were the top team in the nation and the Seminoles were No. 6, not the other way around.
Coming into the second half, Duke continued to look for that second goal to give it a little breathing room—if there’s one thing that teams have learned this season, it’s to not get too comfortable when on the same field as the Seminoles. The Blue Devils took that to heart, continuing to attack the Florida State third and, while they didn’t rack up the goals, the impact of the continued aggression was clear on the field.
The Seminoles aren’t used to playing behind—they hadn’t lost in regulation since 2019—and it was plain to see they were uncomfortable on the pitch. That manifested in an early-second-half yellow card for Florida State, followed up by another one 15 minutes later, as the time on Florida State’s unbeaten season slowly ticked away.
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Duke kept the pressure up, coming up with several good looks at goal, often resulting from the play of the seemingly uncontainable Cooper. And while the shots weren’t finding the back of the net, the Blue Devil defense, anchored by a strong performance from sophomore centre back Katie Groff, continued to come up big, playing their most complete game of the season, en route to their most important victory of the season, as they held a usually electric Seminole offense to just four shots on goal.
“At this point in the season, [Caitlin], Emily and I, Delaney, Nikki, Olivia—all of us in the back five—we've just been working together for so long that now we know each other's ways,” Groff said. “And so I think we're just there to help cover each other...we’re all there for each other and helping one another. So that's how we got the shutout.”
The emotions as the buzzer sounded, signaling the close of a stressful last minute, were hardly the first emotions of the day. Before the game, Duke’s five seniors were recognized on the field, along with their families. And while it may not be the last regular season home game for all five of them, for Duke’s graduate students, this was goodbye to regular season games at Koskinen Stadium.
So it’s only fitting that the Blue Devils walked away with the victory, marking the first year since 2015 where they took down North Carolina and Florida State in the same season. And this Duke era doesn't look like it's ending anytime soon.
“Spirits are high, but we haven't won anything yet,” Boade said. “We know what we're after and we're getting better with every game.”