DURHAM, N.C. – Duke Blue Devils men’s lacrosse coach John Danowski and his players walked out of Koskinen Stadium Saturday with a 16-15 overtime win over fifth-ranked Syracuse, and a valuable lesson to carry forward.
If they possessed the will and desire to win, and their intended effort to win was well directed, they would be rewarded.
The Duke Blue Devils learned about karma this past week.
Having lost three of their previous five games heading into their ACC-opening matchup against the Orange, the Blue Devils had dropped down into ninth and 11th spots in recent polls.
They weren’t playing to win, or more specifically playing with the belief that they would win.
“Do you believe in karma?” head coach John Danowski asked his team following a 10-9 loss to the No. 20 Air Force Falcons on Tuesday.
“I said right after the game that this is a lesson that we needed to learn, and if we don’t learn, we’re not gonna grow. If we don’t internalize this, if we don’t figure it out, we don’t really look at ourselves. I think we did a really good job of being more relaxed this time in overtime.”
The Blue Devils looked poised to end it quickly after face-off specialist Kyle Rowe won possession of the ball.
They attacked the Syracuse goal defended by keeper Warren Hill who had made 11 stops previously on 26 shots on goal, and made sure he wouldn’t make another.
It all took just 53 seconds as midfielder Chad Cohan cradled the pass from attackman Jack Bruckner high and then placed a bounce shot low past the Syracuse keeper for the game-winning goal.
The majority of the crowd of 3,571 in attendance erupted and watched the entire Duke sideline full of players and coaches spill onto the field to envelop Cohan in celebration.
It all happened in a blur to him when he described the winning shot attempt.
“I couldn’t really tell you, I kind of blacked out,” he said jokingly.
“I just knew I had to put it in the dirt and make the coaches happy. I’m just really happy it went in.”
It was a fateful moment, if you believe in that type of stuff – a better ending for a Duke team that’s struggled to consistently finish close games for wins.
A 12-10 loss to the unranked Richmond Spiders followed a 14-9 loss to then 12th-ranked Harvard.
A decisive 15-6 win over then No. 9 Loyola made it appear as though things were back on track, particularly since they followed it up with a dominating 20-6 win over a struggling Georgetown squad.
Then Air Force knocked the wind out of the Blue Devils.
Once again they faced adversity and couldn’t pull out the win to their favor.
Enter Syracuse with a record of 5-1 and with hot shooters who made it look as though Duke would suffer a second loss for the week.
Sergio Salcido’s four goals along with Tim Barber’s hat trick made it look as though the Orange would run away with the win by taking advantage of outside shooting opportunities that Blue Devils keeper Danny Fowler and his defense struggled with.
Turnovers and clearing problems during the first half didn’t help Duke and only fueled Syracuse’s ability to carry an 11-6 lead into halftime.
“We thought in the box we played good defense,” Danowski said.
“When you make a mistake against Syracuse, and they make you pay. They shoot the ball great. That was something we knew going in that that was gonna happen, but Danny in the second half…terrific.”
The Blue Devils played better defensively in the second half and allowed the efforts of a career-high seven-goal performance from midfielder Deemer Class lead the comeback.
Though the Orange offense countered and held a 14-10 advantage into the final quarter of regulation play, Class along with Cohan and Justin Guterding, who recorded a hat trick on the day, put Duke in position to pull even.
Class then gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game.
However, that wouldn’t be enough as Syracuse tied it up and forced both teams to head into an overtime period that ended in Duke’s favor.
Myles Jones sat alongside Class and Cohan in the locker room afterwards, ready to answer the media’s questions about the game.
Normally they’ve had enough energy to stand when doing so after each game.
Not this time.
They look wiped while reflecting on what had just happened.
“Sixty-four minutes in a battle with Syracuse,” Jones said.
“It’ll wear you out. You don’t want to have any regrets sitting out a play, so you give it all you have for all 64 minutes – whatever it takes to get the victory.”
Danowski looked downward and forward as he sat and listened to his players talk about what they had just gone through.
When it was his turn to speak, the coach kept it simple and to the point about the lesson his team had learned.
“I think the guys believed,” Danowski concluded.
“After Tuesday night, they’d been in an overtime game. They had chances to win it in overtime and we didn’t. The theory for us now is you gotta play to win. Don’t worry about what might be, what won’t be, just play to win.”