DURHAM, N.C.óThe Duke University men’s soccer team closed out the regular season tonight with a tough 2-1 loss to ACC foe N.C. State on Senior Night at Koskinen Stadium. The 18th-ranked Blue Devils tried to rally from a 2-0 deficit, but the Wolfpack held on for the win.
The loss puts Duke (10-6-2, 3-3-2 ACC) in the No. 5 seed in the tournament. The Blue Devils will take on fourth seeded Virginia in the quarterfinal round of the ACC Tournament on Nov. 12 in Cary, N.C. The Wolfpack improve to 8-8-1 and 3-5-0 in league play.
“We didn’t play well in the first half,” head coach John Kerr said. “We gave up a soft goal in the first half and an early one in the second half and that’s hard to come back from. We made a valiant effort to come back, but it was too much to overcome. I just didn’t think we had as much sharpness as we have had in the past four or five games.”
After some early possession by the Blue Devils, the Wolfpack were able to get into a rhythm and start to build their offense. N.C. State picked up its pace of play and ran at Duke for much of the remaining part of the first half.
Controlling the run of play, the Wolfpack broke through with the first goal with 10:05 left on the clock. Playing in Duke’s defensive third, Alan Sanchez touched the ball to Kris Byrd who was able to find the feet of Ronnie Bouemboue just inside the box. Bouemboue was able to turn to face the goal and fired a shot into the left side netting for the 1-0 lead.
Christian Ibeagha had a chance in the final minute of first-half action, but his header went wide left of the goal as Duke headed into the locker room trailing 1-0.
N.C. State wasted little time after the break in increasing its lead. Bouemboue got into the box right away off a through ball from Sanchez. Alone on the right side of the box he slipped the ball low into the left corner for a 2-0 Wolfpack lead just 45 seconds in the frame.
The Wolfpack continued to attack, but it was the Blue Devils picking up the intensity as they tried to rally from the 2-0 deficit. They started to put pressure on the N.C. State defense and were rewarded with a penalty kick when a Wolfpack defender took down Sih as he tried to turn with the ball in the penalty area.
Senior Mike Grella stepped up to the penalty spot and put away the shot to cut the lead to 2-1 with 28:13 left to play. Duke continued to press forward and attack at speed in the final 28 minutes and created good opportunities. Winning a corner kick with 19 minutes left to go, Grella served the ball into the near post for Ibeagha, but his header skimmed over the crossbar.
Ibeagha had another good opportunity on a corner kick as N.C. State goalie Christopher Widman spoiled his chance at the game-tying goal. The Blue Devils had the Wolfpack on their heels for much of the final 10 minutes. However, N.C. State held on to its one-goal lead to come away with the 2-1 victory.
“The goal definitely gave us a big lift,” Kerr said. “We played with a lot of energy after that, but it just wasn’t our night tonight. I’m disappointed for the seniors that we couldn’t send them out with a win, but they’ve all had a great career here at Duke.”
Duke had a slight 13-11 advantage in shots and a 4-2 edge in corner kicks. In goal, senior Brendan Fitzgerald made five saves, while Widman’s had one stop.
The ACC will announce the official bracket with seedings and times on Monday, Nov. 10. Complete information regarding the ACC Tournament will be available on www.GoDuke.com.