CHESTER, PA. – The second-ranked Duke Blue Devils lost 16-15 to the fourth-ranked Syracuse Orange with one second remaining in the two teams’ semi-final match-up in the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship played at PPL Park on Friday.
Dylan Donahue scored the winning goal on a feed from Kevin Rice whose pass from the top of the box made it through tight defensive coverage to his attack partner near the top of the crease.
Donahue turned to receive the pass and in the same motion redirected the ball over the shoulder of Duke goalkeeper Luke Aaron to give the Orange the dramatic one-goal victory and berth into the team’s first ever ACC championship final.
“It’s a great feeling; they’re a really good team,” Donahue said.
“It was a hard-fought effort from both teams and we’re just happy to come away with the win.”
Donahue’s four-goal, two-assist performance along with Rice’s three-goal, five-assist output led the Orange offense during the latter stages of the game even while Aaron tried to fortify the Duke cage with a 12-save performance in the loss.
As Syracuse (10-3) took advantage of the lack of urgency on the Duke defense’s part during the final quarter of play, the effort diminished an impressive effort from Blue Devils attackmen Josh Dionne and Case Matheis, who along with midfielder Deemer Class, all recorded hat tricks.
As the second-seeded team in the tournament, the defending NCAA-champion Blue Devils (12-3) held a 14-10 lead with 13:38 remaining to play in the final quarter and had forced third-seeded Syracuse to use both goalkeepers, Dominic Lamolinara (5 saves) and Bobby Wardwell (8 saves), to try to slow the offensive onslaught.
The strategy which Orange head coach John Desko used unsuccessfully in a demoralizing 21-7 loss to the Blue Devils in Durham a month earlier worked this time.
Wardwell came up with key saves to keep his team close and provided the spark to energize a transition game that caught Duke off-guard.
While it looked as though the Blue Devils would hold on for the win to advance to Sunday’s championship final, the Orange fought back to tie the score 14-14 nine minutes later.
Even as the ACC’s leading goal scorer Jordan Wolf tallied his 47th goal of the season to put Duke ahead 15-14 with 3:15 remaining, the Blue Devils couldn’t preserve the win.
After turning the ball over on an errant pass in the offensive zone with under a minute to play, Duke was unable to deny Syracuse the opportunity to score as Billy Ward netted his second goal of the game to tie the game once more with 15 seconds remaining.
After winning only two of eight faceoffs in the first quarter, Duke’s Brendan Fowler finished the game winning 20 of 30 draws and had regained the advantage over Daddio for most of the game, but not on the final draw.
Daddio came up with his biggest faceoff possession of the 11 total he claimed for the game, and quickly passed the ball forward to allow Rice and Donahue to work their magic to score the winning goal 14 seconds later.
“We were playing pretty good offense all day, so we just talked in the huddle about our offense. Just stay patient – there’s 10 minutes left in the game,” Rice said.
“Chris [Daddio] started heating up in the faceoff X again and Bobby [Wardwell] made a few huge saves down the stretch and we were able to capitalize.”
The loss was Duke’s second in as many ACC semi-final games after losing an 18-17 shootout to North Carolina last year.
“They won the individual battles,” Duke head coach John Danowski said.
“They got inside a lot, and when they got inside, they made plays. We knew as coaches that it wasn’t going to be 21-7 again. Those Syracuse players have so much pride and it was tough to convince our guys because they only know that one game. We’ve been doing this a long time and we’ve seen this before.”