The dream of flight has existed since ancient times, from the myth of Icarus to Da Vinci’s famed flying corkscrew. Just about four hours east of Durham and just over a century ago, two brothers turned that millennia-long dream into reality, allowing someone to wake up in Rome, eat lunch in Paris and be in New York by dinnertime.
Air Force, by definition, excels at flight, but the fourth-ranked Blue Devils flew circles around it Monday night at Koskinen Stadium. Behind characteristic attacking ruthlessness and a masterful performance in midfield, Duke closed its homestand with a commanding, never-in-doubt 18-6 romp of the outmatched Falcons.
“We're delighted with the progress the team is making,” head coach John Danowski said. “[It’s] not easy to play two games in four days and coming off of spring break. After a very physical game with [North Carolina] on Friday night, there might be that tendency to let down a little bit. I thought that the guys were very focused.”
Against Loyola a couple of weeks ago and again Friday evening against North Carolina, Duke’s calling card in recent weeks has been its hot-off-the-blocks scoring. Sophomore Andrew McAdorey grabbed the first before junior Brennan O’Neill, freshman Charles Balsamo and graduate student Garrett Leadmon built on it, jumping out to a 5-1 lead by the close of the first quarter and never looking back. Duke (8-1, 2-0 in the ACC) scored and scored some more in the game’s latter half despite going deep into the bench at nearly every position, grabbing some much-needed rest while maintaining its lofty standard.
Balsamo put his characteristic craftiness on full display once again. To compound an already tough first half for the Falcons (5-3, 2-0 in the ASUN), the New Yorker curled around the crease, ducked under an extended long-pole and delicately placed the ball past the goalie’s left side. The stuff McAdorey was great at last year in midfield — speed and killer technique — is the stuff Balsamo has been great at this year, and with the former excelling in attack, having the latter’s assets in midfield has been indispensable.
“He's a young Thundercat, as coach [Danowski] likes to call him,” junior FOGO Jake Naso said of Balsamo. “But I absolutely love the kid’s work ethic, seeing him come out and work really hard every day. It's definitely cool to see a payoff for him on the field and just gotta keep going with it.”
McAdorey continued to be a live wire of Duke’s attack as well. Within 11 minutes in the first quarter, McAdorey already had two ticks in the goals column. On the second goal, which put the Blue Devils up four, the New York native used his low center of gravity to weave through the Air Force defense for a clear rifle into the top right corner.
In their last three games, the Blue Devils blasted nine goals against the Tar Heels, 14 against the Greyhounds and 10 against the Falcons in the first half alone. These recent quick starts have supercharged Duke to blowout win after blowout win, and has it playing like maybe the hottest team in the country right now.
“The first couple of games of the year, we started off a little slow,” Naso said. “Not letting the foot off the gas and trying to get to our opponents quickly would help us set the tone for the rest of the game.”
The Blue Devils’ 14th goal was likely their best. Junior midfielder Charlie O’Connor caught the ball from defense and immediately zipped it to senior attacker Dyson Williams, who caught it mid-swing and slotted it into the bottom corner. It was fluid, pretty and clinical, and perfectly emblematic of Duke’s five-star performance throughout the night.
McAdorey, O’Neill and Williams, who finished with two, three and four goals, respectively, all took their turns celebrating against Air Force, but it was the midfield that really made Duke tick. Leadmon, who is enjoying a renaissance year, exceeded his career-high 12 goals in a season with two more Monday night. Perhaps the Blue Devils’ greatest asset was Naso, who dominated the faceoff game with a 76.5% success rate at the center circle.
Naso was so dominant, in fact, that Danowski decided to cycle him in and out at the start of the second frame. Still, Duke held firm, and Air Force struggled to get anything going offensively since the ball was just never in its players’ sticks. Keep in mind, this is a Falcons team that beat No. 17 Denver, who the Blue Devils squeaked by in February, convincingly.
“Jake is somebody who figures it out as the game goes along,” Danowski said. “And so certainly having possession with what we're playing offensively right now is really important to our team. And when you get a lead, that allows your defense to relax a little bit, allows the guys on the bench to relax a little bit. And so possession of the ball is huge.”
This game was not a matter of Air Force playing ineffectively or being especially profligate in front of the cage. Duke’s defense was just so good and its possession so overwhelming that it was never really given the chance to play at all.
On the defensive front, the rotated trio of senior Kenny Brower, sophomore Keith Boyer and freshman Henry Bard was uncrackable. Brower, on the watchlist for the Tewaaraton Award, anchored the unit with a series of assured pressures. Boyer and Bard — a five-star, top-20 recruit — did their part too, cycling in and out with usual starters Will Frisoli and Wilson Stephenson to get valuable minutes under their belts.
Up next for the Blue Devils is a Saturday date with St. Joseph’s before an all-important March 31 contest at No. 3 Virginia.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.