Men’s soccer falls at home versus No. 4 Duke

In a controversial Big 4 match, the Demon Deacons lost their first game at Spry in 365 days


Evan Harris

Midfielder Colin Thomas (No. 26 in gold) gets the angle on two Blue Devil defenders before firing a shot on goal. Wake Forest outshot Duke 18-14 despite the loss, with Thomas leading the midfield unit to set up many of those opportunities.

Matthew Kulynych, Contributing Writer

The No. 1-ranked Demon Deacons dropped their first match of the season Saturday night at Spry Stadium 3-2 to the No. 4-ranked Duke Blue Devils in a massive Big Four game. Despite outshooting Duke 18-14 on the night, Wake Forest was unable to come away with the victory as they fell to 9-1-0 and 3-1-0 in conference play. This loss also ended the Demon Deacons’ program-record, 13-game winning streak at home in front of the Spry Stadium faithful.

The match against Duke was highly anticipated, and despite the loss, the game provided plenty of excitement and lived up to the hype. Duke came into the match ranked 4th in the nation, with a 7-0-2 record and having only conceded 3 goals on the season, so it was bound to be a big test for the Demon Deacons. 

Coming off of two statement 6-1 wins in the week prior over the George Mason Patriots and the Clemson Tigers, the Demon Deacons came into this big matchup in great form. This momentum seemed to carry on into the early stages of the game, as Wake Forest dominated proceedings from the first half whistle. The Demon Deacons’ first chance came six minutes into the match, when junior left back Jahlane Forbes whipped in a dangerous cross to the back post, but a Duke defender was able to clear before tricky junior winger Colin Thomas could head it home. 

Three minutes later, some great build-up play on the left side between Forbes and sophomore Baba Niang led to a blocked shot from sophomore midfielder Roald Mitchell, and junior Oscar Sears lashed a shot from 25 yards on the rebound but Duke’s keeper was in position to save and hold the shot.

Unfortunately, pivotal midfielder Hosei Kijima had to be withdrawn with an injury following an attempted cross in the 20th minute. The junior from Yokohama, Japan was replaced by sophomore Ryan Fessler, and Demon Deacon fans everywhere hope Kijima undergoes a speedy recovery, as he is tied for 3rd in team goals with three and is extremely important to the strong midfield unit.

Perhaps the loss of Kijima and the long break in play slowed Wake Forest’s momentum a bit, but the Demon Deacons created yet another big chance in the 24th minute. Colin Thomas received a pass from Fessler and whipped in a gorgeous cross at the back post to Roald Mitchell. Mitchell got a free header away, but a sliding Duke defender managed to block the shot, and junior Oscar Sears fired the follow-up over the bar. Minutes later, Sears unleashed another thunderbolt of a strike, but it flew just past the top right corner from long range.

Duke finally started to find their feet in the game, as the last 15 minutes of the half were largely played near Wake Forest sophomore goalkeeper Trace Alphin’s box. Fortunately, the strong backline led by captain Garrison Tubbs and his center-back partner junior Prince Amponsah were able to neutralize any Duke attacks.

As the halftime whistle blew, the Demon Deacons must have felt unlucky to not be in the lead. They had taken seven shots to Duke’s two and had dominated the game. Jahlane Forbes and Colin Thomas in particular seemed to be at the center of a lot of Wake Forest’s biggest chances.

However, Duke came out in the second half carrying the momentum they had started to build late in the first half. 

Despite no clear chances in the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Blue Devils looked more threatening. Following a foul by senior Takuma Suzuki about 40 yards from goal in the 57th minute, Duke whipped in a free kick that was headed just past Alphin’s reach by Shakur Mohammed. It looked like Baba Niang had been bowled over by a Duke attacker just prior to the header, but no whistle came from the referee.

The packed crowd at Spry Stadium would break out into a “Wake…Forest” call-and-response chant immediately following the goal, and the energy seemed to reach the players on the field. Niang would get his foul just a minute later to win a penalty kick and give Wake Forest an excellent opportunity to equalize. 

Following a long ball by Tubbs, Niang had cut towards the end line and was clumsily taken out by a Duke defender with a slide tackle. Beginning his penalty kick with a stuttered run-up, Niang calmly slotted his penalty kick into the bottom right corner, sending the Blue Devil goalkeeper the wrong way.

The Demon Deacons would, unfortunately, find themselves behind just moments later in the 60th minute. Tubbs sent a slightly under-hit back pass to Trace Alphin, who appeared to slightly hesitate before coming off his line. This combination allowed Duke forward Jai Bean to block Alphin’s pass, and it somehow managed to sneak inside the post to give Duke the lead right back.

This uncharacteristic error seemed to wake up Wake Forest, as they began to regain momentum and press for another equalizer. And they thought they had it with just under 20 minutes to go, as sophomore Julian Kennedy thumped home a header only to be denied by an offside flag. Those in the stadium seemed to think he was onside, but there were no huge complaints from Kennedy and no replay angle could confirm or deny the decision on the broadcast.

This disallowed goal seemed to deflate the Demon Deacons a bit, as Duke pushed for a 3rd and forced two big saves out of Alphin in the next five minutes, one of which led to the corner which would give the Blue Devils a 3-2 lead. Axel Gudbjornsson was able to flick a header into the far right corner, and the Demon Deacons had conceded their 2nd set piece goal of the night in the 77th minute. 

But Wake Forest was not done fighting yet. With a corner of their own in the 80th minute, the Demon Deacons found their second via an own goal. Junior midfielder Omar Hernandez whipped in a ball towards Baba Niang at the near post, and it flicked off a Duke defender and into the far corner to make it a 3-2 game. The Demon Deacons turned up the energy, and all of Spry Stadium was on their feet for what looked to be an exciting finish.

Roald Mitchell came very close to finding an equalizer in the 87th minute. Sophomore right back Cristian Escribano did excellent to dribble around his defender and make space for a cross to the top of the six-yard box to Mitchell. Unfortunately, the Demon Deacons’ top scorer was unable to put this one in the back of the net, as his header fell calmly to the feet of the Duke goalkeeper. 

The final chance of the match came for Baba Niang in the 90th minute. He dribbled around his defender twice and created space 30 yards from goal, before sending a powerful effort straight towards the top right corner. Duke’s goalkeeper took the save a little too calmly, as he spilled it off the post, but luck was on his side as it fell right back into his arms, and the final whistle came just a few seconds later.

Wake Forest ended the game with 18 shots to Duke’s 14, and both sides took eight corners. Despite the loss, the crowd was electric at Spry Stadium, and coach Bobby Muuss took to Twitter to say, “Thank you to the amazing crowd that came out to Spry tonight. I am sorry we didn’t get the result you and the team wanted and deserved, but I felt the guys played good football and battled to the end.”