DURHAM, N.C. – It started out as a goalkeeper’s battle and then turned into an offensive/defensive chess match during which the 17th-ranked Air Force Falcons outlasted the 10th-ranked Duke Blue Devils, 11-10, at Koskinen Stadium on Sunday.
With Duke faceoff specialist Kyle Rowe battling Josh Radjenovich, both teams earned ample possession opportunities to score.
Though Rowe dominated at the faceoff-X, winning 16-of-21 draws, exceptional goalkeeping by Air Force freshman keeper Paxton Boyer, who made 14 saves in his collegiate debut, outlasted Duke’s attack.
“I thought our freshman goalie reacted very well for a first game,” Air Force head coach Eric Seremet said.
“I’m proud of him – a tough spot to be thrown into the fire like that – very proud of him. Our offense wasn’t really clicking like the feel we had from last year. We’ve got a lot of improvement to make there. But, at the end of the day, the guys just kept battling, like they should.”
Along with Boyer’s work in the cage that kept Duke’s offense working hard, to a level of frustration, a four-goal performance from Nick Hruby led the Falcons offense that included man-up goals from preseason Southern Conference picks Chris Walsch and Andrew Tien.
While Duke starting goalkeeper Danny Fowler made nine stops, Air Force capitalized on the opportunities it got and outlasted the Blue Devils defensively to earn a second one-goal win at Koskinen in as many years.
Justin Guterding, led the Blue Devils with three goals and an assist, and a pair of goals each from attacks Jack Bruckner and Joey Manown supported Duke’s offense.
Tied 1-1 after the opening quarter, both defenses started to show open seams that allowed the goals to fill the cage – nine combined in the second period.
Led by Hruby’s natural hat trick, the Falcons built up a 5-2 lead with 7:04 remaining in the first half.
From that point on, members of the Blue Devils’ highly touted freshman class took over and sparked a 4-0 scoring run.
Marown’s second of the game and Kevin Quigley’s first of his collegiate career softened the Falcons defense and Sean Cerrone and Jack Bruckner soon completed the run that put Duke ahead 6-5 at halftime.
Tien reestablished the Air Force offense and tied it up again early in the third before Bruckner and Guterding connected to put the Blue Devils back up 8-6.
The Falcons took advantage of turnovers, a total of eight each committed by both sides, and put together a 5-0 run that carried into the fourth quarter.
All-of-a sudden Duke trailed 11-8 with 8:52 remaining.
Earning possession off the draw was critical to staying close and Rowe did just that which led to two goals from Guterding in a span of 41 seconds.
A blocked shot and a ground ball pick up by Fowler initiated a Duke clear with under five minutes to play.
The Blue Devils didn’t take advantage off that possession, but soon did from others.
Guterding’s final two goals pulled Duke within one with seven minutes remaining.
Both teams traded possessions during that time, and Duke’s final opportunity to tie it came during the final minute of play.
With 42 seconds remaining, the Blue Devils had the ball and cleared it, but an offside call turned it back over to the Falcons to hold on and earn the win.
“That was my fault in terms of coaching and preparation,” head coach John Danowski said, owning the costly mistake in a somber tone.
“That’s something we should have been better at.”
Showing flashes of potential with a talented corps of freshmen, Duke’s leadership starts with Guterding and Bruckner.
Having experienced quick exits from the NCAA Tournament during his time at Duke, Guterding was honest in assessing his team’s play.
His goal, as is his teammates, is to reestablish the consistent play and success of past Blue Devils squads, and that will only come through commitment to hard work and building confidence and pride to produce wins.
“We’ve got a ton of new faces,” Guterding said.
“It’s gonna come eventually. We’ve just gotta keep workin’. Obviously, a really tough loss at home -back-to-back years with Air Force. They were a better team than us today. They hit their shots. Their goalie played great. It was tough for us shooters. We’ve just gotta bounce back.”
Guterding had the first shot on goal, and Boyer came up with a chest save.
At the other end, Duke’s defense began with a structured man-defense that kept Air Force out at the periphery – loading up, but missing on three shot attempts.
Fowler made his first save on a running high-to-high from Flynn.
Boyer made another save on Duke’s next offensive sequence.
It continued to be a goalkeeper’s duel as Fowler made another save with both teams scoreless through the first five minutes.
Boyer stopped Smith on a standing eight-yard snipe while Fowler intercepted a pass on the Falcons’ possession.
Driving from X around to Boyer’s right, Guterding was stuffed and Air Force cleared the ball successfully.
Ward’s 15-yard shot was easily drawn into Fowler’s crosse as play entered the final five minutes of the period.
Driving to goal-line extended, Lowrie drew a Falcons slashing penalty and Duke had the first man-up opportunity of the game.
It didn’t take long for Mitch Russell to get a feed to the top of the crease before dunking it over Boyer and giving Duke a 1-0 lead with 4:12 remaining.
Air Force earned its first EMO, and didn’t take long to even the score when Hruby lined one up eight yards from side-right and beat Fowler to even the score at a goal apiece.
A stop by Boyer created a ground ball pick-up opportunity by Matarazzo and the fast break ended with a snipe by Hruby for his second of the game to put Air Force up 2-1 at the 13:07 mark.
Duke freshman Joey Manown scored his first collegiate goal and tied it up two minutes later.
Cutting across the top of the crease, Bruckner zipped a pass to him and a quick-stick finish beat Boyer to even the score 2-2.
Hruby completed the natural hat trick on another delayed Duke-penalty call.
From side-left, the Air Force attackman drove in toward Fowler and beat him high to give the Falcons the lead again.
Walsch’s first of the game extended the margin to 4-2 with 9:26 remaining when he beat Fowler from the left side with the EMO afforded by Dunne’s slashing penalty.
Air Force continued to dominate possession, and eventually added another goal when Gould scored at the 7:04 mark.
Fronting Duke’s Seau, Gould dodged right, then left, before unleashing a high-low shot from top-right that extended the Air Force lead to 5-2.
With Rowe winning successive draws, Duke’s freshmen converted on two successive scoring opportunities to pull the Blue Devils within one.
Quigley’s long bounce shot beat Boyer and Manown’s snipe from goal-line extended to the keeper’s left bulged the twine 54 seconds apart.
The Blue Devils maintained their offensive momentum and Sean Cerrone tied it up 5-5 with 3:36 to play on a running bounce while driving the lane.
A holding penalty to Air Force’s Jones then provided Duke the opportunity it needed to regain the lead for the first time since the opening five minutes of the game.
Bruckner’s high-to-high shot off the crossbar was the closest the Blue Devils came to scoring with the EMO.
However, Bruckner soon made good on his next opportunity as he quick-sticked a pass from Guterding to put Duke ahead 6-5 heading into the halftime break.
It was Bruckner’s 100th career goal, and the finish provided Guterding with his first point of the game, tallies that extended each player’s current scoring streaks – 39 games for Bruckner and 38 for Guterding.
Tien tied it at six goals apiece at the 12:56 mark as his high-low shot from 10 yards out just barely squeezed under Fowler’s step-forward save attempt.
Bruckner put Duke ahead once again and the ensuing faceoff win by Rowe allowed him to feed a pass to set up Guterding’s first goal, a dunk over Boyer that made it an 8-6 game.
Air Force soon put together a beautiful tic-tac-toe finish that ended with a backhand from Walsch past Fowler that made it a one-goal game again with 7:10 to play.
Back-to-back saves by Fowler soon gave Duke the ball back.
The Blue Devils didn’t convert on the possession and eventually Air Force gained the ball and it paid off when Ward scored to tie it up 8-8 with 3:26 to go.
After Ethan Powley picked up a ground ball and initiated the clear and eventual fast break, Duke earned another EMO.
It was short lived as a turnover by Lowrie allowed the Falcons to kill the penalty and the period ended with both teams still tied 8-8.
Hruby’s fourth of the game put Air Force ahead 9-8 at the 12:59 mark.
Ninety seconds later, cutting inside, Gould quick-sticked a bounce shot past Fowler off a feed from Cox, and extended Duke’s deficit to two goals.
A win off the draw by Rowe eventually found Guterding’s crosse and the back of the cage to cut the Falcons’ lead to two a minute later.
Another Duke possession off the draw allowed Guterding to post his first hat trick of the season.
With possession and leading 11-10, Air Force looked to stick the final dagger in, but a blocked shot was picked up by Fowler.
A successful Duke clear ended up with a prime opportunity to tie the game.
A shot off the post from Smith and a dribbler off the iron from Guterding both beat Boyer, but didn’t end up in the goal.
Air Force regained possession before calling a timeout with 1:39 remaining.
Duke had to force a turnover if it wanted to get another chance at tying the game.
Air Force held onto the ball while the stall warning was on and Duke’s 10-man ride forced the shot clock to count down.
Duke got the ball with 42 seconds left, but an offside call ended any further attempt to tie the game.