Duke edges UNC 9-8 in OT thriller

Wolf scores winner while goalkeepers stop 30 shots combined

DURHAM, N.C. – Looking at it from the other side, the fourth-ranked Duke Blue Devils’ 9-8 overtime win over the fifth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at Koskinen Stadium on Saturday was a true defensive lacrosse battle.

Sure, Blue Devils attackman Jordan Wolf topped off a four-goal performance by scoring the overtime winner 86 seconds into the extra period, but Duke goalkeeper Luke Aaron made 15 saves on 23 shots on goal that he faced to keep North Carolina’s snipers from adding to the different leads they established during the game.

Duke midfielder Kyle Keenan tallied his first career hat trick and scored the tying goal for Duke (6-2, 1-1), beating North Carolina keeper Kieran Burke as both teams were even at 8-8 with 1:47 to play in the fourth quarter.

Even while coming up on the losing end, Burke was equally up to the task in stopping 15 shots on 24 attempts that made it to the cage while his offensive support staff of Jimmy Bitter and Michael Taglieaferri each recorded hat tricks while Joey Sankey added two of his own against Aaron.

This game was as close watching it as it ended up being when reading the stats on paper afterwards.

Both teams claimed 33 ground balls and kept each other scoreless on EMO’s (0-4 for both teams).

Duke had to rely on Keenan’s outside shooting to keep North Carolina’s defense turning around towards the outside as it clamped down on numerous occasions to contain the Blue Devils’ passes to the top of the crease all game.

“They played really great,” Keenan said of the Tar Heels defense.

“Their goalie played on his head at moments. It took a lot of work – more than we thought. After a couple of dodges, we had a couple of multiple-dodge possessions before we could crack them.”

The Tar Heels’ Stephen Kelly won the overall battle at faceoff X, claiming 13 of 20 draws from Duke’s Brendan Fowler (7-19).

“I thought their faceoff guy did a terrific job,” Duke head coach John Danowski said.

However, the draws that Fowler did win were at key moments in the game, including at the beginning of overtime that put the ball in Duke’s crosses to set up Wolf’s winning marker.

After neither side could convert on opportunities to decide the game in regulation, it was Wolf who was the difference maker, scoring his goal after initiating his starting point at X and driving around the cage in full stride to beat his defender and Burke.

“I’ve played with Christian Walsh for a while and I knew he was going to throw it to me,” Wolf said.

“He set a pick – once he threw it I attacked the ball – walked around the guy that played me on (the) top side, I spun and scored.”

Deemer Class and Case Matheis rounded out the Blue Devils’ scoring in a game that had the teams tied four different times and playing playing catch-up to North Carolina (5-2, 0-2) who established two-goal leads during the first and third quarters.

“Overall I was really proud of the effort that our guys put in – the execution, the attention to details, how tough we played,” North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi said.

“We know playing against Duke it’s always gonna’ be a slugfest as it has been.”

It was renewal of an area rivalry among reigning title holders as the NCAA-champion Blue Devils faced the ACC-champion Tar Heels  for the 70th meeting all-time between the two teams.

However, it wasn’t the two teams’ offenses that swung as hard their respective defenses did on this day.

The last time the Blue Devils and Tar Heels met one another was in the semifinal of the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament in Chapel Hill when the Tar Heels outlasted the Blue Devils in an 18-17 duel.

As many watching would have expected a similar outing, both teams actually began the game very conservatively and played a much more defensively-minded game for the entire duration.

In a sport that highlights offensive spurts that many times renders the men in the cage helpless, it was refreshing to watch two goalkeeping performances that pushed the excitement level in a rivalry game even higher, from 10 to 11.

Credit both Aaron and Burke for that.