Soccer is one of those sports where sometimes, the inferior team can win. Sometimes, a weaker squad can park the metaphorical bus and grab one or two goals on the counterattack, escaping with a victory.
On the other hand, sometimes the stronger team buries the opponent. Sometimes it is close, but sometimes it is just an avalanche. On a warm October Friday night in Durham, that is exactly what No. 8 Duke did to Virginia Tech at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils played to a physical 1-1 draw in the first half, before riding the momentum of two quick goals in the second half to come out on the winning end of an eventual 7-1 hammering.
“Overall, really pleased with our performance,” said head coach John Kerr after the game. “Bummer to give the goal away late in the first half, but overall, really happy with how we played.”
The first quality chance resulted from the early push in the 13th minute, when graduate forward Forster Ajago broke through the Virginia Tech defense and appeared to be in on the net. He ripped a shot, which was saved off of the fingertips of Hokie keeper Timi Adams. From there, Duke (10-3-2, 4-3-1 in the ACC) continued the attack, with corner kicks and more set-piece offensive attempts.
The early rush eventually came to fruition just under 20 minutes into the period, in what was a brutal turn of luck for the Hokies (4-8-4, 2-5-1). On a long free kick for the home squad, the ball came into the 18-yard box. While none of the Duke players were able to make contact, Virginia Tech defender Sergios Feneridis saw the ball take an unfortunate bounce off his head, slipping just past Adams and into the back of the net to give the Blue Devils the lead.
The Hokies managed to even the score with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the half, as forward Marcos Escoe took a ball that had snuck onto the back post and snuck one past freshman Blue Devil goalkeeper Julian Eyestone, who was left helpless on the play. The game looked like a close one as time ticked down in the first half.
Duke, like it has been for much of the year, was especially dominant on set pieces. The Blue Devils put themselves in positions to draw fouls or force deflections. Hokie frustrations rose with each whistle, and eventually Virginia Tech head coach Mike Brizendine was awarded a yellow card for bad behavior from the sideline. When calls went the other way, Duke players acted similarly. Ajago received a matching yellow card for his banter with the referee.
Whether it was the hot-headedness left over from the first half or an understanding of the importance of this game for the ACC tournament playoff picture, both teams came out the gate fired up in the second half.
The Duke attack paid off just minutes later with what can only be described as a poetically beautiful goal. When a cross from midfielder Wayne Frederick came to the far post, a header from Ajago centered it to give sprinting forward Ulfur Bjornsson a relatively straightforward tap-in off the top of his head. Just under 10 minutes into the second half, the Blue Devils had retaken the lead. Bjornsson has been on fire as of late, with five goals in his last two appearances.
“I think the team is really working well together,” Bjornsson said. “We're connecting. It's been building up for the season. We're at a good spot right now. And it's just getting better and better.”
After that second score, Duke clearly smelled blood in the water. The attack continued as a through-ball from Bjornsson found the feet of Ajago, who slammed it home to give the Blue Devil lead a bit of cushion. From that point on, the home team was solidly in control, as the veritable air raid of crosses and free kicks continued.
Duke was spurred on with just over 25 minutes remaining in the game, as Escoe was caught making a studs-up tackle into Blue Devil defender Antino Lopez’s ankle. The Hokie forward was sent off on a straight red card. Not only was Duke in control, but the Blue Devils were now also playing with a man advantage. Virginia Tech struggled to get an undermanned attack going, and Duke used its depth to keep fresh legs moving up and down the field.
The nail in the coffin came with 10-and-a-half minutes remaining in the half, as a beautiful two-man game between Ajago and midfielder Bull Jorgensen set up a bouncing ball for Frederick, who volleyed it home to give Duke a near-insurmountable 4-1 lead.
That did not mean the home team was done quite yet, as Bjornsson deflected another one off a set piece from Nick Pariano to pile on his second goal of the night and the team’s fifth. Just after that, yet another one found its way into the back of the net as Frederick scored his first brace of his career. Bjornsson and Ajago’s connection, on full display Friday, has seemed to increase every game this year.
“When I came here, Coach Kerr, he told me that I was gonna be playing with [Ajago], and he told me, you're gonna link up. And when you do, it's going to work,” Bjornsson said. “And he's always been telling me when you do, it's gonna work, take a little bit of time. But I feel like in the last month, we've been getting better and better at it, getting to know each other more on and off the field.”
There came a point where it seemed like the Hokies were just beating themselves. They gave up another point on an avoidable own goal to put the Blue Devils up 7-1. In every sense of the word, this was a beatdown, which will be key in building momentum as the squad enters the ACC tournament.
“We've grown a lot as a team, we've been growing and it's been getting better and better,” Bjornsson said, “And I think that momentum, we will take it into the postseason.”
Duke’s postseason will begin Wednesday at home against Boston College.
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