No. 2 Duke men's lacrosse floors the gas, steamrolls Jacksonville behind O'Neill's 5 goals in revenge match

Brennan O'Neill became Duke's fifth all-time leading goalscorer with his five goals against Jacksonville.
Brennan O'Neill became Duke's fifth all-time leading goalscorer with his five goals against Jacksonville.

Nemesis vanquished.

After Jacksonville defeated Duke in the last two seasons by a combined three goals, the second-ranked Blue Devils finally got their revenge Friday evening at Koskinen Stadium, demolishing the Dolphins 23-7. Senior captain Brennan O’Neill led all scorers with five goals, while Dyson Williams contributed four, Josh Zawada and Max Sloat added hat tricks and Andrew McAdorey popping up with a couple goals of his own. 

“I thought the team prepared well during the week,” said Duke head coach John Danowski of his team’s effort. “They were ready to play from the first whistle.”

In the first few seconds, it seemed as if the contest could take a much similar shape to the prior two affairs. Jacksonville won the first faceoff, and a cutting Jack Taylor crossed the white line and missiled a side-armed shot past freshman goalie Patrick Jameison to take the lead within 40 seconds. Teeming with energy, the Dolphins then won the ensuing faceoff and kept offensive pressure high for five minutes. Looking for a spark, the Blue Devils (4-0) turned to their best player, reigning Tewaaraton Award winner O’Neill. The Bay Shore, N.Y., native wound up and fired it into the roof of the net, blowing it past Jacksonville goalie Ryan Della Rocco to even the score.

Duke then exorcized the demons of years past and took over.

Charles Balsamo got the party started, as the sophomore midfielder used a screen to create separation, sprint downhill and spike a bouncing shot into the back of the net. Sloat then put his body on the line, gunning a shot into the net while absorbing a huge blow. The Blue Devils then turned a Jacksonville (1-2) miscue into a goal after Ibrahim Pio turned the ball over in midfield. A flying Aidan Danenza found a wide-open Williams on the doorstep for an easy finish. 

Two more goals from McAdorey and O’Neill made it six unanswered goals for Duke, before O’Neill capped off the Duke run in style. O’Neill dodged from behind the crease, cut to the front of the net, faked with his right shoulder and turned over his left, firing a shot with his non-dominant hand past a confused Della Roca to complete his first-quarter hat trick. 7-1 Duke.

“Brennan has a skill set that you can’t duplicate,” Danowski said. “He has a feel for the goal … and his release is really hard to pick up for a goalie.”

Jacksonville tried to claw back some momentum, as Anthony Caputo snuck one off of Jameison and into the net. However, Duke slammed its foot on the accelerator. Williams scored two quick goals in the span of 79 seconds, the former a tight finish on an extra-man advantage thanks to a perfect pass from Zawada. The Blue Devils continued to dice up the Dolphin defense, utilizing the extra pass to perfection to score easy goals. Danenza and Sloat both got in on the action in similar fashion, scoring impressive looks after O’Neill drew a double-team and dished the ball. 

Another easy goal from Zawada with 1:15 remaining in the half cemented a 13-3 lead. In that span, Duke scored on 68% of its shots, a clip that essentially ended the contest before the second half began. 

As much as the Duke offense was firing on all cylinders, the defense fed much of its success. The Blue Devils forced 11 turnovers, some of which directly led to goals. For example, a fierce stick check by junior midfielder Jack Gray dispossessed Caputo on the doorstep. His outlet pass eventually found McAdorey, who then located Williams to complete his first-half hat trick. Duke did a fantastic job of sliding, constantly harassing Jacksonville shooters and keeping the ball on the perimeter for long periods of the shot clock. It felt as if on every possession the Dolphins were losing the race against the shot clock, much to the delight of the Blue Devil bench. They gleefully counted the seconds down every time. Duke did not allow a goal for 24 minutes, an impressive feat spanning from the beginning of the second quarter to the end of the third.

“We have so many veterans in the defensive group,” Danowski said. “A lot of Division-I lacrosse … I thought that the short sticks held up really well. When we slide and help each other, we seem to have more success.”

The offense continued to operate as a well-oiled machine in the second half, pumping out one impressive goal after another. Jacksonville remained unable to slide properly on screens, allowing for more goals from Sloat and McAdorey. In the third quarter, O’Neill drove towards the net and effortlessly shrugged off the defensive pressure by flipping a behind-the-back shot past the goalie and into the nylon. His fifth goal a few minutes later marked his 170th for Duke, tying Matt Danowski for fifth all-time in program history. 

Jameison, tapped for the start, performed extremely well Friday. The Devon, Pa., native stopped nine shots, ending the game with an impressive 75% save rate. Jameison was an integral part of starting the run, blocking a shot from Jacob Greiner to keep the game knotted at one apiece. He really showed his skill when denying a flying Tucker Garrity at point-blank range, skillfully cutting down the angle and catching the hard shot. Jameison even made a skillful kick save on a bouncing shot, revealing a bright future for the program inside the crease. 

This was especially significant, given that the only real question mark surrounding the team in its first few contests is who would be its go-to netminder. Princeton transfer Griffen Rakower subbed into the game in the third quarter and immediately impressed, eating a shot from Nicky Brown off his facemask and then performing a beautiful kick save on Pio 30 seconds later. Graduate student and 2023 starter William Helm and graduate transfer Mac Fotiades from Michigan split the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. Helm allowed one goal on one shot, while Fotiades had one go by him on two shots.

When asked about his plan at goalie, Danowski said it’s up to goalie coach Alex Ready.

“It’s Alex’s call. I trust him implicitly,” Danowski said.” And he makes a decision based upon what he sees in practice … it's really 1A, 1B and 1C, [not] 1, 2, 3.”

Duke continues its four-game homestand next Friday at 6 p.m. against Pennsylvania. 


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