PHILADELPHIA—History, for all of its academic merits, is perhaps most useful in the fact that it is often the future’s most reliable predictor.
In 2010 and 2014, Duke bested Notre Dame in the national title game, winning three other postseason meetings in between and afterward. History was on the Blue Devils’ side leading into Monday afternoon’s NCAA championship game at Lincoln Financial Field, but they quickly learned the hard truth of relying on the past to inform one’s future.
Despite a late-game rally, the top-seeded Blue Devils were ultimately overwhelmed 13-9 by No. 3-seed Notre Dame, gifting the Fighting Irish their first national championship in program history and extending a nine-year title drought for head coach John Danowski and his Duke team.
"A well-deserved run," Danowski said. "They've been terrific all year from day one. And we're proud of them, being partners in the Atlantic Coast Conference. If we're gonna lose to somebody, we lose to somebody in our conference. So congratulations to the Fighting Irish."
Upon the second-half restart, Duke started to find some offensive juice after a wasteful first half. Leadmon popped it to a wide-open Jack Gray, who slotted it low and hard. Brennan O’Neill curled around the crease and found room after Dyson Williams’ pick sent his defender to the floor, who subsequently received the ball and low-handed it under Notre Dame goalie Liam Entenmann. Garrett Leadmon missiled it top-right, and after more than 30 minutes of scoreless lacrosse, Duke had scored three in less than two minutes and had turned a 6-1 halftime deficit into 6-4.
O’Neill rifled it bottom right shortly after, bringing it within one. Jeffery Ricciardelli and Aidan Danenza traded goals either side of a two-minute man-down for the Blue Devils, setting the game on a knife’s edge for an incredibly tense final quarter. It only got tenser when a Notre Dame own goal tied it up at 7-7, the first time the contest was level since the Fighting Irish equalized on Leadmon’s opener.
Two late goals by Notre Dame to close out the third made Duke’s task all the more daunting in the fourth quarter, compounded by an Eric Dobson goal that made it 10-7. Some late-game heroics by Entenmann shut the door on the Blue Devil comeback bid, snuffing out a slew of good shots by the likes of Williams and Charles Balsamo, all while the Fighting Irish grabbed a few more goals of their own to buoy the final scoreline.
"The last [goal] bothered me, but I don't think it bothered the team in that they'd just come back from a five-goal deficit," Danowski said. "So two goals, it's not insurmountable ... We hung in there, kept fighting. So, I don't think the team was deflated, I think they thought that a two-goal lead is not the end of the world."
"A player like [Entenmann] can really change the game," Williams said when asked about changing the game plan to deal with him. "He stood on his head. But once again, it's a 6-by-6 net, and you just got to shoot, so shoot. You can't change the way you play just because things aren't going your way."
This tale-of-two-halves was made all the more enthralling by the fact that Leadmon, the Blue Devils’ overtime hero from their semifinal win against Penn State drew first blood, weaving past an army of Fighting Irish defenders to dunk it right on the doorstep past Entenmann. It didn’t seem like it then, but Leadmon’s opener would be the only time Duke celebrated in the first half, despite 24 shots and nine on goal. Most emblematic of the Blue Devils’ perplexing lack of attacking fluidity was a series of shots midway through the second quarter that bore no fruit, allowing Quinn McCahon to take it on the fast break and punch it from half field into an empty net.
A shaky performance by Duke goalie William Helm was in many ways responsible for Duke’s tenser-than-anticipated Final Four bout with the Nittany Lions, and Entenmann made clear early on that goalkeeping errors would not be the reason the Fighting Irish would lose this game. The defense in front of him certainly helped, holding a Blue Devil attack that has torched nearly all opponents it has faced this season at pole’s length.
The Blue Devils nearly broke that defensive rigidity after Owen Caputo was pushed to the ground and Duke earned a man-up opportunity, but Williams’ carve to the crease culminated in a soft bouncer that Entenmann gobbled. Balsamo’s shot as the penalty clock expired hit the side netting and the ball was back in Notre Dame’s sticks, and soon, the Blue Devil net courtesy of Chris Kavanagh.
Then came a two-minute, nonreleasable Duke penalty on All-American defender Kenny Brower, setting up a nervous close to a first quarter that the Blue Devils were desperate to escape from. They stood firm and weathered the Fighting Irish’s attacking storm, earning back their colossal long-pole before scuffing yet another shot at Entenmann’s feet.
Notre Dame once again made Duke pay for its poor shot selection and execution, capitalizing on a loose-ball scuffle just outside the circle to pop it over Helm’s head for a 4-1 advantage. Even when the Blue Devils had another man-up opportunity they couldn’t break down the Fighting Irish defensive line, skying two shots before surrendering it on a shot clock violation. Fast break, goal. 5-1 Notre Dame.
With the defeat, Duke’s season — in which it won the ACC title outright and finished the year unbeaten at home — comes to a close, putting the Blue Devils’ all-time NCAA final record at 3-4.
"Every season brings a new journey," Williams said. "And we try not to dwell too much on on the past. You just start with a fresh mindset, and I thought that this year we did a great job with that. We didn't think too much."
"Every year is a new journey," Brower added. "New guys, new team, but the standard doesn't change. So it continues be our goal to get back here eventually one day, and win."
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Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.