When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
No. 3 Duke turned around a difficult first half to comfortably dismiss No. 17 Vermont 15-7 at Koskinen Stadium Sunday following a ruthless attacking display in the second half. Sophomore attackman Brennan O’Neill and junior attackman Dyson Williams exploded once again with a hat trick apiece, with equally impressive showings from fifth-year midfielder Nakeie Montgomery and senior attackman Joe Robertson with three and two goals, respectively. To top it all off, Duke righted its defensive ship from Friday, putting on an impressive backline display that, even while trailing, stymied its northern opponent and indicated that maybe, just maybe, the graduation of longtime defensive star J.T. Giles-Harris won’t be as problematic as once thought.
Duke exited the first half with an impressive defensive performance and only four goals conceded, but was offensively blunt-edged and only scored twice itself after netting a couple of quick goals in the opening minutes. Koskinen Stadium plays host to two sports—soccer and lacrosse—and the low scoring, defensively-minded first 30 minutes made it seem for long stretches like the team was watching the former, not the latter.
Juxtapose this with the second half, in which three players capped off hat-trick performances and Duke outscored Vermont 13-3, and Duke showed a true tales-of-two-halves effort.
“It was the offense’s day on Friday,” said senior defender Wilson Stephenson. “Today, it was ours so we kind of took that.”
“First night, we scored 10 goals in the first 10 minutes of the game,” said Williams. “So you go in, you score that many goals in the first game, but then game two comes around and you score two in the first half. I think it's just you’ve got to hit that reset button, you can't panic. I thought we did a good job of keeping an even keel.”
As soon as Duke (2-0) came back on the field in the second half, it looked like a completely different team from the one that Vermont (0-1) saw in the first. Williams grabbed an early goal to cut the deficit to one and O'Neill tied the game soon after, as the sophomore phenom charged at cage from a tight angle on the right to outmuscle a Catamount defender and drill the shot bottom-right. Robertson, Montgomery and Owen Caputo all scored in the third quarter to bring it to 8-4, and from then on the Blue Devils ran rampant.
Sean Lulley and Andrew McAdorey both added their names to the scoresheet in the fourth quarter as well, capping off a monstrous offensive effort and somewhat of a return to Friday’s status quo.
“I think honestly, it's just [in] this offense that we have the depth is unbelievable,” said Williams.
The first 30 minutes not included, Duke’s offensive line once again shone. O’Neill, Williams, Robertson, and Lulley proved for the second time that the Blue Devils’ attacking rotation is one to be feared and one that can produce when necessary.
“It's a coach's dream,” said head coach John Danowski. “At some point, you kind of want to say that, well, you're not really an attackman; you're an offensive player. You can play midfield, you can play attack, you can put six attackers out there.”
Amongst these attackers was Montgomery, who was a preseason All-American. Montgomery was Duke’s only real offensive hope in the first half, netting a quick brace in the first quarter and topping it off with the first hat trick of the game with his goal in the second half.
“Nakeie [Montgomery] is probably the most knowledgeable player on our team,” said Danowski. “In terms of understanding the offense, he has an incredibly high athletic IQ and he's incredibly selfless, which is an unbelievable combination.”
Though the attack did show out in the second half, its efforts would have been in vain if the unit behind it wasn’t so stingy. Yielding 12 goals to Robert Morris and then conceding five fewer against the national No. 17 team is a monumental improvement for this new Blue Devil backline, which should be praised for the dominance it showed this afternoon.
“This team has got so much talent on the defensive end,” said Stephenson.
For a while, this game was shaping up to be a disappointing, low-scoring defensive slog, but Duke pulled itself together in the second half for one of its most complete team displays in a long time. If it maintains the defensive rigidity it showed Sunday and the offensive ruthlessness it showed Friday, these blockbuster Blue Devils are going to be very difficult to stop.
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