SOUTH BEND, IND.—The defining moment of a team is what it does with its back against the wall.
With considerable implications for NCAA tournament selection, No. 12 Duke took on the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish in South Bend, Ind., at Arlotta Stadium in a must-win game for both teams. Despite a dominant first half, the Blue Devils couldn’t compete late with the edge the Fighting Irish brought, and Notre Dame came from behind in the second half to secure a 16-14 victory.
“They’re a great team, great coaching staff,” head coach John Danowski said after the game. “We scored nine goals in the second quarter and only scored three goals in the second half.”
Both teams entered the contest on the bubble, competing for one of eight at-large NCAA tournament bids, so there was a real, tangible possibility for both sides that Saturday would be their last game.
However, in the fourth quarter, only the Fighting Irish played like it. They brought a desperation and intensity in the fourth that the Blue Devils simply couldn’t match. After starting cold and then working up to a simmer in the third, Notre Dame was at a full boil the entire last quarter, scoring five goals and conceding zero to overcome a 14-11 deficit at the start of the period.
Led by the tail end of a six-goal night for junior attacker Jake Taylor and a hat trick for sophomore midfielder Eric Dobson, and buoyed by a defensive collapse on Duke’s end, Notre Dame completely switched the narrative. An aggressive ride put pressure on an outwardly fatigued Duke defense, leading Duke to go 2-of-5 on clears in the final 15 minutes and turn the ball over to a newly lethal offense, and a string of penalties on the Blue Devils didn’t help the visitors.
“I did an awful job allowing the guys to be relaxed in the fourth quarter. And that's on me,” Danowski said.
Still, Duke fans in Arlotta Stadium—and there was a significant contingent despite the 700-mile distance between the two schools—couldn’t be faulted for calling the game at the halftime buzzer. After a first quarter that saw Notre Dame goalie Liam Entenmann make six saves on eight Duke shots on goal, the Blue Devils erupted for nine goals to Notre Dame’s three in the second. Led by four goals from junior attacker Dyson Williams and two goals and two assists from senior midfielder Owen Caputo, Duke took a four-goal lead into the locker room, one that Notre Dame didn’t seem equipped to overcome.
But in lacrosse, no deficit is too large to come back from, and the Fighting Irish did just that. Though Duke’s defense was able to fend off its first few possessions, the home team looked completely revitalized entering the third quarter, looking to set up and capitalize on offense instead of scoring primarily in transition. It helped that Notre Dame faceoff specialist Will Lynch went 7-0 in the third frame, which kept the ball in the offense’s hands while keeping it away from a Duke offense still poised to strike. All of a sudden, after only netting 12 shots in the entire first half, the Fighting Irish had 15 in the third quarter alone, with four more goals to show for it.
“It’s team defense,” Danowski said of how the game unfolded. “It’s not one guy versus our team.”
Duke was able to fend off Notre Dame’s comeback attempt, though, by going 7-of-7 in clears and generating a couple of clutch goals in the few opportunities it found. First, in the final seconds of an extra-man opportunity left over from the second quarter, freshman midfielder Andrew McAdorey found the back of the net with a lob that looked more like a conveniently placed pass than a shot. Then, sophomore attacker Brennan O’Neill outmuscled All-American defenseman Arden Cohen to curl around the back of the net and score from point-blank range, completing a hat trick in the process. Finally, graduate midfielder Nakeie Montgomery scored Duke's last goal of the day with his trademark speed.
Though the Fighting Irish had clearly taken control of the game in the third, Duke's three goals on seven shots left the home team still trailing by three, unable to overcome the deficit created in the first half. The rest is history, however, as Notre Dame rose to the occasion late.
Now, with both teams failing to make the tournament for the first time in more than a decade, there are many what-ifs surrounding Saturday’s game. But ultimately, both showed that they were capable of exciting lacrosse, which will surely continue into next season in 2023.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.