WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—For the first time in two weeks, the Blue Devils ventured outside the confines of Koskinen Stadium. And in the battle between Devils and Deacons, the Blue Devils made short work of their rival.
After their past five victories against Wake Forest coming by just a single goal and their last victory against the Demon Deacons coming in overtime, the Blue Devils didn’t want to leave this one to chance, taking the lead early and commanding the game the rest of the way, en route to a 2-0 victory Friday night at Spry Soccer Stadium.
“I think we’re getting back to where we really are,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “The N.C. State loss stunned us a little bit and it stung a lot. And I think we started looking at each other and we started looking inside each other, and I think we grew a lot on Sunday with Pittsburgh. And to come out here and win and really have complete control and domination of the game, I’m really happy where we are.”
Through the first five minutes of match, it was the Demon Deacons that proved to be the aggressors, resulting in Wake Forest picking up the first two shots of the game, after a Blue Devil handball gave them a free kick just outside Duke’s box. The shots—one blocked and one off-target—would make up the bulk of the Wake Forest offensive effort in the first half, as they only put up a shot once more in the period.
From here, Duke began (10-2-1, 4-2-1 in the ACC) its 80-plus minutes of domination, and the scoreboard soon reflected this shift.
Just over seven minutes into the game, a misplayed pass from Wake Forest (12-3, 4-3) found its way to the foot of Tess Boade, who quickly passed it ahead to an accelerating Michelle Cooper. Cooper fought off the pair of defenders shadowing her, outrunning one and avoiding the other as they fell to the pitch, before maneuvering around a sliding Wake Forest goal keeper and calmly slotting it into the net for Duke’s first score of the night.
If her goal against Pittsburgh wasn’t proof enough, this was: After missing three games due to health and safety protocols and returning to the next with just a few days of practice, Cooper has returned to form and, in step with her, so has the Duke offense.
“I didn’t think we came out and started great,” Church said. “We looked a little tired at the beginning of the game, but Michelle weaved her magic and scored a big goal and then I think the confidence in our whole team rose. And then we were clinical in the first half. We kept the ball and kept the ball and attacked when we wanted to. So I was really, really impressed with us in the first half.”
And that was made even more clear less than 15 minutes after the first goal, as the Blue Devils put together one of the prettiest assist-goal combinations of the season.
A collision between players five yards outside of the Duke box led to a Demon Deacons turnover, as junior Sophie Jones took control. Jones quickly passed it up ahead to a racing Pluck, who took one touch to push the ball across the midfield line before taking her second touch to send an arcing pass cross-field to a wide-open Boade. Boade settled the ball at the top-right of the Wake Forest box before firing a shot across the box into the bottom left corner for Duke’s second goal of the game.
Despite not putting another shot on goal in the half—other than a Marykate McGuire goal that was called back for offsides in the 40th minute—the score heading into halftime was never really in doubt, as the Blue Devil defense held Wake Forest without a shot for the last 31 minutes of the half.
Coming out of the locker room, similar to the first half, the first six minutes of the second proved to be the Demon Deacons’ best chance at chipping away at the Blue Devil lead. Duke goalie Ruthie Jones faced her only shot on goal of the night in the 51st minute, and it’s debatable whether it was even on target. Jones later corralled a Wake Forest corner kick and the Blue Devils settled back into their dominating possession, allowing only two more Demon Deacon shots in the half, neither on goal.
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While the Blue Devils wouldn’t score again—despite a golden opportunity in the 71st minute when a Cooper-precision pass found its way to Boade, who lifted the ball over the net—the Blue Devils' performance tonight was arguably their most complete game of the season, final score notwithstanding. A couple inches here and a calmer final shot there, and this one would’ve been a 4-0 blowout, rather than the dual-goal victory it turned out to be.
“Second half, we were okay—we had control of the game,” Church said. “It never felt like the game was in danger. We had the better scoring chances, but we never found that third goal—would have loved to have found that third goal and really put a big exclamation point.”
But a win is a win in the ACC, especially when it comes on the road. This one marked Duke’s first victory away from home since their historic win against North Carolina and gave them the three points in the conference standings necessary to get them into the rapidly upcoming ACC tournament. So, with the Blue Devil’s toughest week of the season upcoming—a slate of home games against Notre Dame and top-ranked Florida State—a win on the road was exactly the boost(er) that the doctor ordered.
“Going into this week, we really need to remember how it felt when we lost against N.C. State,” said sophomore Emily Royson, one of Duke’s 90-minute centre-backs. “And we need to take that anger and confidence going into this week. And [also] remember how it felt to win today and just remember who we are and get a win out of it.”