Kip Coons, TSN Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. – Two soccer teams in dire need of a conference victory squared off at Dail Soccer Stadium on Friday night.
Only one got the result it so desperately sought.
Duke rebounded from an early one-goal deficit, equalizing on senior forward Jared Golestani’s first career goal, and freshman midfielder Suniel Veerakone produced the game-winner on a free kick in the 75th minute to send the Blue Devils past host N.C. State 2-1 despite 1,765 raucous fans.
Heading into the halfway point of their Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schedules, neither team had a victory in conference play yet.
Duke (4-3-2, 1-2-1 ACC) was probably in direr straits, however.
It dropped a 2-1 double-overtime decision to visiting non-conference opponent Georgia State on Tuesday, when the Blue Devils provided the game-winner on an own goal in sudden death.
N.C. State (3-7, 0-4) had seemingly righted itself by rallying past visiting Wright State 4-2 on Tuesday with a season-high goal output.
And when the Wolfpack went up 1-0 on Duke in only the sixth minute, it looked like State was in command.
It didn’t last.
Exactly three minutes after sophomore forward Tanner Roberts put the Pack in front, heading in a cross from sophomore defender Simon Blotko for his second goal of the season, Golestani finally found the range.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder made a strong backside run and was there to finish off a cross by junior midfielder Brian White after junior defender Carter Manley had made a strong foray into the penalty area and found White on the left flank.
“To be honest, my job was the easiest on the field,” Golestani said.
“I just made my back rush, the entire team worked the ball around, and Brian put the ball across the net. All I had to do was tap it in.”
Maybe so, but that’s something that Duke has shown an inability to do with consistency.
In a 1-1 tie with ACC Coastal Division cellar dweller Pittsburgh and the loss to Georgia State, crosses sailed through Duke’s offensive end all night long without consequence.
That was part of the reason Golestani was in the starting lineup.
Two of Duke’s top three returning goal scorers from a year ago ended up not playing a minute for the Blue Devils this year.
Jeremy Ebobisse left after his sophomore season to turn pro in August, and senior Brody Huitema saw his career end prematurely with concussion syndrome in the preseason.
After playing only sparingly his first three seasons and totaling two assists, the big senior is finally the next man up for Duke.
“I’m definitely happy to finally be able to show what I’m capable of,” said Golestani, who made the first two starts of his career this week.
“And I think that it’s awesome having such a team behind you that’s so supportive. Everyone is there encouraging me to go on and make my runs, play the way I’m playing. It’s great having the support system and the guys behind me. It makes my job very easy.”
The encouragement extended to Duke coach John Kerr.
“I told him before the game that he was going to score,” Kerr said.
The Blue Devils were already two starters down after injuries incurred against Georgia State. Grad student Ryan Thompson, a forward-midfielder, pulled a hamstring, and junior defender Kevon Black sat out with a back injury.
If that wasn’t enough, freshman central defender CC Uche went down with a leg injury late in the first half against N.C. State, forcing Kerr to patch together his defense.
He moved Manley from his outside defender role to the middle and sent in freshman Brandon Williamson from the bench.
“Carter gives us a lot of calm possession,” Kerr explained.
“With him in a central position, he’s able to get on the ball a lot more. And we wanted some calmness on the ball centrally, and I thought he did a great job.
“I thought Brandon Williamson had a great game. He came off the bench late in the first half and did a great job in the back. I’m really proud of him.”
Grad student goalkeeper Robert Moewes recorded four saves, and one of them was spectacular, a one-on-one stop of State’s Julius Duchscherer on a breakaway in the 36th minute.
“He had a great game, solid as a rock back there,” Kerr said.
“His communication was fantastic, especially with having to adjust with CC getting injured.”
Duke needed the defensive effort, because the Wolfpack held statistical advantages in shots (14-6) and corner kicks (5-0) and turned up the pressure in the final 15 minutes.
“I thought we played well, well enough to win,” State coach Kelly Findley said.
“We had plenty of chances to score.
“It’s not just in ACC matches, but every game we’ve played in, we’ve won every statistical category. Whether it’s composure, a little bit more belief, one more pass in the box, or maybe one less pass in the box. It’s no lack of trying. Our guys are working hard and getting in the right spots. Eventually it’s going to fall for us.”
Instead, it fell for Duke and Veerakone at the end.
The speedy freshman was fouled on a run just outside the penalty area, directly in front of the goal.
“Suniel when he’s on the run is dangerous, and he got a great opportunity to score there,” Kerr said.
“They fouled him, and he’s vicious on the free kick.”
In fact, both of the freshman’s previous goals this season came on almost identical free kicks.
“The guys have a lot of confidence in me,” Veerakone said.
“Right when I got fouled, they told me to just bury it. So I did.”
Veerakone skidded his shot off the underside of the crossbar and into the upper right corner of the net, when State goalkeeper Alex McCauley never had a chance.
Duke returns to action Tuesday night when it steps outside the conference again to host Davidson before traveling to Virginia Tech on Friday.
State will have more time to reflect before going on the road to play fifth-ranked Clemson on Saturday night.