There are few better feelings than lifting a trophy.
In a 6-0 rout of Furman, No. 4 Duke tallied five goals in the second half Sunday afternoon to secure its second win of the year and the John Rennie Invitational trophy in Koskinen Stadium. Dayton graduate transfer Forster Ajago was the star of the show for the Blue Devils, earning his first career hat trick, while junior forward Jai Bean added a goal and graduate student Fahmi Ibrahim added two more off the bench to further secure Duke’s victory.
While it is technically a trophy, the John Rennie Invitational was most significant as a sign of things to come. One sign? The impact of Ajago.
“[Ajago] could have had five today,” head coach John Kerr said. “[I’m] happy with his attitude, his approach and he’s gonna make goals for us this season.”
The scoring started as early as minute 14 for the Blue Devils (2-0) as Ajago dove for a header and buried it in the back of the net for his first goal in a Duke uniform. Starting with sophomore midfielder Kenan Hot slicing through defenders and earning a corner after a nice run into the box, senior midfielder Nick Pariano’s corner-kick delivery hit Ajago in the right spot, and Duke took an early lead against the Paladins (1-1).
Less than two minutes into the second half, Ajago struck again. Like before, the 6-foot-2 forward dove to meet a low-driven cross by junior midfielder Ruben Mesalles. Just like that, the Blue Devils doubled their lead.
From there, they were relentless.
In the second half, Duke’s offensive depth, specifically Bean, impressed even more. After a big missed chance earlier in the game, Bean responded by finding the ball at his feet in the box and burying a shot into the back of the net. Ibrahim, brought off the bench to play the last seven minutes, scored two goals of his own to close out the match.
“We have a deep team, which we showed this afternoon,” Kerr said. “We raise a level when guys come off the bench.”
In between the two strikers’ contributions off the bench, Ajago buried a penalty of his own merit after being taken down by diving Furman goalkeeper Aaron Salinas, securing his first career hat trick and Duke’s first since Thorleifur Ulfarsson’s in September 2021.
Freshman goalie Julian Eyestone was busy in the first half, making two saves, the more impressive being a diving stop after a hard-hit ball by Furman midfielder Alfredo Diaz-Santillan sought the top-left corner.
“I was just doing what I had to do,” Eyestone said. “When it comes time to make the save, if you can keep it close to you and keep it in your hands, that's just a bonus.”
Kerr’s squad also proved its depth in the first half with seven total substitutions, already two more than in Friday’s season opener against Jacksonville. Bean alone logged three shots, one of which on goal, in 22 minutes of first-half running.
“I like the number of players we have that have first team experience,” Kerr said. “It shows that we’ve done a really good job of recruiting and helping guys develop.”
The Blue Devils scored within the first fifteen minutes of each half, a welcome change from Friday night’s late heroics against Jacksonville.
“One of the goals of the game was to come out and try to get the lead,” Kerr said. “Against Jacksonville, they scored first which made our lives a lot more difficult in the second half.”
With the six-goal victory, Kerr’s squad showed that its offense has real firepower. The last time Duke scored as many as it did Sunday was October 16, 2015 against N.C. State, when the Blue Devils won 6-2..
Duke returns to Koskinen Stadium Thursday to face Wofford, looking to continue its unbeaten start.
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