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No. 2 Virginia falls to No. 3 Duke on the road

The Blue Devils beat the Cavaliers 18-12, offering a taste of playoff competition

<p>Virginia attackmen cluster together on the field during Sunday's game.</p>

Virginia attackmen cluster together on the field during Sunday's game.

This Sunday saw No. 3 Duke host No. 2 Virginia in Durham, aiming to capture its 19th consecutive regular season win against the Cavaliers (10-2, 1-1 ACC). Despite winning faceoffs at a 59 percent rate and winning the ground ball battle 47-34, the Cavaliers struggled to generate consistent offense and ultimately suffered an 18-12 loss to the Blue Devils (11-3, 1-2 ACC).

To start the first quarter, junior goalie Matthew Nunes stepped into the cage. Junior faceoff specialist Anthony Ghobriel won the opening faceoff, setting the pace for his dominance to follow. Two minutes in, Virginia was first to get on the scoreboard thanks to a goal by junior midfielder Griffin Schutz, assisted by graduate attackman Jack Boyden.

Minutes after, a holding penalty on the Cavalier defense allowed Duke to even the score 1-1 at just under five minutes into the game. The Blue Devils scored another, but graduate attackman Payton Cormier evened the score with an assist from freshman attackman McCabe Millon.

Duke went on to score five more goals before the clock zeroed out, while the Cavaliers mustered only one. The first quarter ended with Duke leading 7-3, and Coach Lars Tiffany pulled Nunes from the net and replaced him with sophomore goalie Kyle Morris. It seemed like an off day for Nunes, who failed to make a save in the quarter and never returned to the game.

Opening up the second quarter, sophomore attackman Ryan Colsey scored his first goal of the game. Duke and Virginia then traded goals, keeping the Blue Devils’ lead at 8-5, with graduate attackman Will Cory scoring the goal for Virginia.

Duke scored once more, but Cormier and graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger both found the back of the net to close the deficit to 9-7 within a minute. Getting the final goal of the first half, the Blue Devils led the Cavaliers 10-7.

In a postgame statement, Tiffany identified where Duke succeeded in its early scoring efforts.

“Give credit to Duke’s shooting,” Tiffany said. “They were fantastic when they had some time, especially in that first half. Brennan O’Neill and [Josh] Zawada put to ball [perfectly] and found net. They did that really well.”

In the beginning of the third quarter, an early turnover by Virginia gave the Blue Devils an opportunity to increase their lead. They capitalized and went on a three-goal run over the first eight minutes.

Boyden finally responded as he shot and scored his own goal. After more good defense and successful clears, Cormier recorded another goal, marking his 44th of the season.

The final quarter saw Duke go on an impressive four-goal streak in four minutes, marking the largest lead any team has held against Virginia this season. Junior defenseman Ben Wayer tallied his sixth goal of the season. Nine seconds later, Millon scored his only goal of the day, bringing the score to 17-12.

The Blue Devils scored the final goal of the game early in the fourth quarter. Constant back-and-forth, turnovers and clears, characterized the ending of the fourth quarter. Time ran out, Duke maintained its large advantage and Virginia walked off the field at the final buzzer with its first major setback of the season, having allowed its highest scoring output of the season.

The Cavaliers did a good job at winning on the ground, but it was not enough to pull out the win. This game shows that even when the anticipated “weakest link” performs well, that does not guarantee a victory. Each position and player needs to be at their best when playing against a team like Duke. Tiffany knows this, and he trusts his offense and offensive coordinator Kevin Cassese. 

“We were really excited about how we were winning faceoffs,” Tiffany said. “Granted, some of that had to do with [Duke senior faceoff specialist] Jake Naso fighting through an injury, but we were getting extra possessions and I'm so grateful for how we battled for ground balls and dominated for much of the game on the ground.”

Next week’s matchup against No. 7 Syracuse will be where the Cavaliers look to shore up their defense and build momentum for the final stretch of the season. The two teams will meet Saturday at 2 p.m., and the game will air on ESPNU.

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