DURHAM, N.C. -- For the second time in two weeks it all came down to the right foot of Duke junior Kelly Cobb as the Blue Devils upended Arkansas 5-3 in a penalty kick shootout to advance to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. Duke and the Razorbacks finished the game deadlocked at 2-2 to set up the heart-stopping finish.
Duke (9-8-6) advances to the quarterfinal round for the seventh time in program history and for the third straight season. The Blue Devils will take on top-seeded and ACC Tournament runner-up Virginia Tech Friday, Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. in Blacksburg, Va.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s unbelievable,” said head coach Robbie Church. “There’s not that many people that believed we’d be in the final eight. A lot of people had written us off throughout the course of the year. This team finds ways to fight back. It wasn’t our best game of the year. We left a lot of chances out there. You have to give Arkansas a lot of credit. They fought, hung in there, and did what they do best. They were able to get their two goals, but we’re moving on.”
Senior Kim DeCesare registered both scores in regulation for Duke, while Arkansas (15-8-1) battled back from a goal down twice to force overtime. It marked Duke’s seventh overtime game of the season and eighth for the Razorbacks.
After battling to a thrilling 2-2 tie in 110 minutes of action, Duke and Arkansas made their ways to the penalty box for the dreaded shootout. The Blue Devils and Razorbacks didn’t miss a beat as they knocked home the first four shots overall to remain tied 2-2. After Christina Gibbons, Duke’s third shooter, calmly put her 12-yard shot away, Duke goalkeeper Ali Kershner came up with arguably the biggest save of her career. Kershner dove to her left to stop the shot and Laura Weinberg finished her chance to set up Cobb for the clinching goal.
Duke dominated the action in the first half, generating quality scoring opportunities within the opening minutes. After just missing through much of the half, the Blue Devils broke through in the 37th minute on a great individual effort from Gibbons to find DeCesare in the box. Gibbons beat her defender to the endline and was able to slot the ball across the box where DeCesare knocked it home in a crowd for the 1-0 lead.
Arkansas came out in the second half and was able to put the Blue Devils on their heels in the early going. The Razorbacks, with the momentum in their favor, scored the equalizer in the 68th minute off a header from Ashleigh Ellenwood.
The end-to-end action continued and Duke answered six minutes later as Mollie Pathman served in a perfectly flighted ball to the far post where DeCesare headed it home for her second of the day and sixth of the year.
“They’re very dangerous players” Church said of the Gibbons and Pathman who provided assists on the day. “They make better decisions on the ball and are very good on the ball. Overall, in tough conditions, I thought at times we played really really good soccer, and at times we just weren’t sharp in decision making. A lot of that goes to Arkansas and what they did. I thought defensively they were very good, and they took their chances well.”
Exactly two minutes later, the Razorbacks capitalized on a Duke defensive miscue that allowed Alexandra Fischer to get in behind the defense and slip a shot into the right corner past Meghan Thomas to make it a 2-2 game.
Arkansas nearly took the 3-2 lead three minutes later, but the goal was disallowed due to an offside call against the Razorbacks. With Duke unable to connect on its chances in the waning minutes the two squads headed to overtime.
The Razorbacks had another goal whistled for offside in the opening seconds of the first overtime and Cobb hit the crossbar in the 98th minute for Duke to force a final 10-minute period. Neither team had any dangerous looks in the second overtime session setting up the exciting finish.
Duke outshot Arkansas 26-10 for the game and Thomas made five saves for the Blue Devils, while Cameron Carter had 12. Both Duke and the Razorbacks replaced the starting keepers for the shootout.
The winner of the Duke – Virginia Tech game advances to the 2013 NCAA College Cup in Cary, N.C. De, 6-8.
Duke advances to its seventh NCAA quarterfinal and for the third straight season … It marks the first time in program history the Blue Devils have advanced to the round of eight in three straight seasons after going to the quarters … Duke is now 26-17-8 in NCAA tournament play … This is head coach Robbie Church’s fifth appearance in the quarterfinals with the Blue Devils as he improves to 19-10-7 all-time in NCAA postseason history at Duke … The Blue Devils and Hokies will square off in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the programs’ histories … Duke is now 6-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament penalty kick shootouts … Kim DeCesare registered multiple goals in a NCAA Tournament for the first time in her career … Duke is unbeaten at home in 11 straight NCAA Tournament home games dating back to 1999.