Sometimes, all it takes is one to break the ice.
That is what happened for No. 4 Duke Friday evening at Koskinen Stadium, as the Blue Devils controlled the run of play for almost the entire game but could not find the back of the net until the 75th minute. In the end, the home team won out, leaving with a 3-1 victory against Jacksonville.
“I thought we could be a lot sharper in [the offensive] area of the field. The telling stat was that we had 14,15 shots. And the three shots that we did have on goal were goals,” said Duke head coach John Kerr. “So we need to create more chances for ourselves in that final third and be a little bit more precise and decisive.”
The scoring began with just 90 seconds left in the first half, when after some defensive miscues the Dolphins’ Daniel Wilkins managed to gain control of the ball in the box and chip it past the outstretched arms of freshman goalkeeper Julian Eyestone to give Jacksonville a one-goal lead heading into the break.
Coming into the second half, the Blue Devils (1-0) turned up the heat. The barrage of shots continued, as Duke logged 12 in the period. Despite the constant pressure, it took until the 75th minute for the Blue Devils to find the back of the net, when sophomore midfielder Drew Kerr curled a free kick from outside the box over the wall and into the top right corner. It was his first career goal in eleven games, and he knew it was a big one.
“We practice this all the time,” he said. “The day before the game we always do set pieces, so just being able to step up and just do what I know I can do and just hit those in-swinging balls…I was lucky to have that.”
From that point on, the floodgates opened. It was obvious that Duke could now smell the blood in the water, and the attack became even more relentless. The second goal came in the 80th minute, when Blue Devil defender Kamran Acito was fouled inside the penalty box. Senior midfielder Nick Pariano came to the spot to take the shot, and promptly tucked the ball into the bottom right corner to give Duke a 2-1 lead. It was just Pariano’s third penalty kick in his Duke career, but his poise and composure under pressure was noticeable. The Blue Devils will likely be looking to the Philadelphia native for leadership a lot this year, and he demonstrated Friday that he can provide a cool, calm presence in those tough situations.
“I know it got down to 15 minutes or so, we didn't have a goal, but I'd say that, most guys it’s just in their nature to keep working at it, keep believing and keep figuring it out,” Pariano said. “Not just doing the same thing over and over again, but really pushing and finding new creative ways to break through.”
The third Duke goal came in the 87th minute, as midfielder Ruben Mesalles put away yet another set piece to give the Blue Devils some breathing room as the clock ran out. While the final score may have indicated a dominant victory for the Blue Devils, this game was tight down the stretch. Jacksonville (0-1) had been sitting on its heels for much of the game, keeping 11 men behind the ball and preferring to simply counterattack when the opportunity presented itself rather than formulating any sort of coordinated offense. The Dolphins pulled back even further after scoring that goal late in the first half, hoping to simply ride out the storm and escape with a 1-0 victory.
As a result, it was very difficult for the Duke offense to work down the field. The Blue Devils had no trouble getting the ball into Jacksonville’s half, but as they moved down towards the penalty area, passing lanes quickly became clogged up with Dolphin defenders. Because the Jacksonville strikers were also involved in the defensive effort, outlet passes were often covered as well. Ultimately, the persistence of this Duke team shone through.
“We did well to finish it, their tactics changed even more in the second half, because they got a goal lead and made it really, really hard for us,” coach Kerr said. “So luckily, we were able to get a free kick and score and then obviously getting the second one really helped us out.”
While the Blue Devils managed to come away with the win, it was not an especially offensively efficient game. None of their first 11 shots taken were even put on-target, and there were several blown opportunities that could have resulted in points on the board much earlier in the game.
Now, Duke will have a day to tune up its attack before it goes again Sunday afternoon against Furman.
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