Coached by former Duke All-American midfielder and assistant coach Kevin Cassese, Lehigh presented a late challenge that fell short as the Duke Blue Devils held on and claimed a 13-11 win.
The two teams met for the seventh time overall and first since 2008, and provided 60 minutes of explosive offensive play at both ends.
Attackman Case Matheis finished with a hat trick and led nine scorers for Duke while Tristan Rai’s four goals and Reid Weber’s three countered for Lehigh.
Duke led 9-3 lead at halftime, but Lehigh made adjustments and took advantage of the Blue Devils’ 19 total turnovers, particularly during the final 30 minutes of play.
Following the opening faceoff, it didn’t take long for Duke to connect as Justin Guterding’s high-low shot with the EMO put Duke ahead 1-0 just 27 seconds in.
It was the first of two goals he would score on the day to go along with an assist.
Rai quick-sticked a pass from Matt Raposo high past Fowler and tied it up at the 11:10 mark.
Lehigh wasn’t devoid of scoring opportunities, and outshot Duke 8-3 early on.
The Blue Devils quickly cut that margin down on successive possessions and put together a four-goal spurt that established a 4-1 lead with 4:55 to play in the quarter.
Greg Pelton scored his first of the season and was followed up by initial goals from Matheis and Chad Cohan.
Midfielder Myle Jones then initiated an individual drive from top-right past two Mountain Hawks defenders before he cut in towards the crease and ended the play with a high-to-high shot over Lehigh keeper Adam Sawicki’s head at the 2:33 mark.
Duke led 5-1 after the first quarter, executing a flawless clearing game (7-7) while Kyle Rowe dominated at faceoff-X over Lehigh’s Casey McAdam.
Rowed eventually finished the game winning 18-of-27 total faceoffs.
The Blue Devils continued to have their way with the Mountain Hawks defense as Guterding netted his second to start the next period almost as his quickly off the faceoff as he did in the first.
Rowe scooped the ball up off the draw and transitioned it to the midfield until Guterding got the setup pass from Jack Bruckner to increase the Duke lead to 6-1
Weber ended Lehigh’s 13-minute scoring drought when he beat Duke keeper Danny Fowler low off a drive around the crease from goal-line extended.
The play cut the Blue Devils’ lead to four goals with 12:04 to play in the half.
Matheis soon scored his second of the game and extended the Blue Devils advantage back to five goals.
Following a turnover on Lehigh’s clear as Sawicki attempted to run the ball through center, a pass to Matheis left him all alone to put the ball past the keeper who couldn’t get back into his crease in time.
Fowler made 14 saves throughout the game, including denying successive shots from Weber and Billy Oppenheimer on a Lehigh EMO before the Blue Devils cleared the ball.
From defending the Mountain Hawks’ 2-2-2 to 2-3-1 shift, Duke’s defensive slides forced Lehigh into turning the ball over more often than Cassese preferred.
“We were just dropping balls and doing things out of our character,” he said.
“I think a lot of that had to do with them, with Duke. The windows are so small in going against their defense and the margin for error is so small, that I think it really got to our guys in the first half.”
Class scored his only goal of the game on the Blue Devils’ next possession and beat Sawicki low to his right as Duke extended its lead to 8-2 with 3:48 to play.
Brad Smith scored his first of the season for Duke before it was matched at 1:32 when Alex Eaton found a way to beat Fowler.
Duke led 9-3 at halftime.
“Coach (Danowski) explained that those guys would come out ready to play, they had nothing to lose, and that’s what we saw,” Jones said.
“We got a little tense when the going got rough, but at the end we have to handle that situation a bit better.”
In making adjustments at faceoff-X and playing tougher on ground balls, the Mountain Hawks eventually outscored Duke for the remainder of the game.
Beating Rowe off the draw, Matt Ernst gained Lehigh a possession which translated into a quick goal as Rai scored his second of the game just 15 seconds into the third quarter.
The Mountain Hawks continued their scoring surge as Oppenheimer’s short-lived one-on-one with John Prendergast soon found him facing only Fowler to beat and score his first goal of the game.
Matheis scored his third of the game in quick response to that goal and put Duke ahead by five again at the 10:58 mark.
Cohan’s second of the game five minutes later beat Sawicki low as the Blue Devils continued to add back to their lead which stood at 11-5.
Lehigh didn’t roll over as Raposo’s first of the game pulled the Mountain Hawks back to within five with 3:54 to play in the quarter.
Two penalties assessed to Duke defender Ethan Powley and Matheis provided a 6-on-4 man-up opportunity for Lehigh to begin the fourth quarter.
Weber’s bounce shot gave Lehigh the boost it needed as Duke’s lead continued to get cut down.
Lehigh continued its comeback bid as breakdowns in the Blue Devils defensive setup allowed Eaton to score his second of the game.
“Definitely the strength of our team is the attackmen,” Cassese said.
“I think they needed a little bit of space. They didn’t have very much of it in the first half and once they were able to get some space, and we figured out a way to get them some space, they were definitely able to make their shots.”
In typical fashion, Duke answered back quickly as Rowe won the faceoff and kept it himself to beat Sawicki.
The Blue Devils led 12-8 with 10:33 remaining.
Bruckner’s lone goal of the game was an impressive one in which he cradled the ball in front of and behind Sawicki before dropping the ball into the cage to once again put Duke up by five goals.
Both teams traded EMO’s as the game clock continued to count down.
While eating up time to end Class’ slashing penalty, Jones played a drop-step-and-back game with Lehigh’s Ray Mastroianni at the top of the left box.
Back at even strength, Duke drew a penalty to Craig Chick that put the Blue Devils back in possession with an EMO to convert.
They didn’t score on the play, but soon after Rai scored his third of the game as the Mountain Hawks trailed 13-9.
Lehigh then rifled off two more goals in 21 seconds and pulled within two goals with 24 seconds remaining.
“There were some dropped passes and some missed plays that we left on the field,” Danowski said.
“Lehigh kept playing. Two minutes left and we’re up a man, and we mismanaged that whole last two minutes. All of a sudden we went from a 13-9 game to 13-11. We managed that poorly, but you have to tip your cap to Coach Cassese and Lehigh – they just kept playin’ hard.”
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, one final possession allowed them to end the game and finally put a stop to the Mountain Hawks comeback bid.
“The biggest takeaway, I hope, is that we’re gonna get better,” Danowski concluded.
“This is the baseline. I don’t think this is as well as we can play. The guys have to understand there’s a lot of work ahead of this. It’s great to be 2-0, but we’re not ready to order any rings or anything at this point. We’ve gotta get to work.”