Jacksonville completes comeback to hand O'Neill, Duke men's lacrosse first loss of season

Duke players gather in front of their goal during a Feb. 4 win against Bellarmine.
Duke players gather in front of their goal during a Feb. 4 win against Bellarmine.

Young children and philosophy experts alike are well versed in Aesop’s Fables, stories told by Greek fabulist Aesop that teach moral lessons. Similarly, Duke fans know all too well about what went down the last time the Blue Devils took on Jacksonville. The Blue Devil faithful learned one Aesop teaching once again Saturday—that they cannot count their chickens before they hatch. 

At halftime in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday afternoon, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils were up 9-5. Ultimately, Duke fell 13-12 to No. 17 Jacksonville after the Dolphins returned from the locker room primed for a comeback. Last season, the Blue Devils fell 14-12 to Jacksonville, despite winning the final quarter 5-3. 

This time around, in the matchup held at the Dolphins’ Rock Stadium, Duke did not just fall short, it fell victim to a powerful Jacksonville defense that quickly learned from its mistakes. The second half was a battle of momentum, and after the Blue Devils lost their force from the first half, they also lost out on a chance to avenge the close loss from last season.

“Their kids were tougher than us in that fourth quarter,” head coach John Danowski said after the game.

With Duke (2-1) leading the Dolphins (1-1) 7-4 after sophomore midfielder Andrew McAdorey added a score with 4:30 left in the second quarter, Danowski called his last timeout of the first half. The Blue Devils held possession and were looking to expand their lead after scoring five goals on 15 shots in the quarter. When the team returned from the timeout, it took just seven seconds for graduate attacker Thomas Schelling to find senior attacker Dyson Williams, who found an outlet and scored on a wide-open backside, making the game 8-4. 

Nearly 40 seconds later, cheers rang again from the visitors’ sideline as graduate midfielder Owen Caputo scored from 12 yards out as quickly as he received it from McAdorey. The five-score lead with 1:41 left in the first half was the team’s largest of the day.

The half would not end until Jacksonville’s Jack Taylor, who had taken three shots on goal, each of which went high or wide, finally scored after a faceoff violation gave the Dolphins the ball. Despite a cut in their lead, the Blue Devils still had a safety net of four goals to build on in the second half. 

But Duke would not be safe for long.

“You credit your opponent,” Danowski said of Jacksonville’s defense. “Sometimes you always look at it from your perspective.”

When the Blue Devils returned from the locker room, Jacksonville had already flipped a switch. After Nathan Kapp won the faceoff by moving through two defenders, he immediately drove to goal to cut Duke’s lead to three.

Duke fought in the moments after, as freshman midfielder Aidan Maguire picked up a ground ball during the faceoff to give the Blue Devils possession and a chance to set up their offense. Three shots in nearly 30 seconds proved that Duke would need a different strategy to add to the scoreboard. The last shot, taken by junior midfielder Aidan Danenza, looked almost perfect but ended in a save and a successful clear for the Dolphins.

But a turnover by the Dolphins’ Ethan Lamond, forced by Kenny Brower, returned the ball to the Blue Devils, who took several shots before junior attacker Brennan O’Neill scored his fifth and final goal of the day.

O’Neill’s goal, after his first in the opening quarter and three straight for Duke in the second quarter, would only keep the Blue Devils in contention. Taylor, who had just scored his first goal of the game, on the other hand, blossomed from that point on. Dolphin attacker Jacob Greiner assisted Bryce Wojnovich’s first goal of the game to make the score 10-8 with 7:50 left in the third quarter before Taylor scored again, cutting Duke’s lead to 10-9. Wojnovich scored once more after that to make the score even.

The Blue Devils finally faced an 11-10 deficit, one they would never overcome, with nearly two minutes remaining in the third quarter off a goal from Greiner. 

At the beginning of the game, the Blue Devils struggled somewhat offensively as three of the Dolphins’ four first-quarter goals came from turnovers. But the second quarter consisted of Duke—led by O’Neill’s output—winning the ground-ball battle 11-3 and scoring seven goals.

By almost all standards aside from scoring, the Blue Devils should have won the third quarter. The team had 16 shots on goal to Jacksonville’s 12 and had 11 ground balls to the Dolphins’ eight, turnovers were even and Duke won eight of the quarter’s 10 faceoffs. However, Jacksonville scored on 7-of-12 attempts for a 12-11 lead heading into the last 15 minutes of play.

“I thought that we have to learn how to shoot. We have to change our locations a little bit more. We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box—would be helpful,” Danowski said.

Each team only got a single score in the final frame, and finally, the Blue Devil faithful learned the moral of the story—a loss one year does not always turn into a win the next.

Duke continues its season at home in Koskinen Stadium at 4 p.m. Friday against Denver.


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