CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Brandon Williamson registered a goal and an assist to lead the Blue Devils to a hard-fought 3-2 comeback victory over 14th-ranked North Carolina Friday night in Chapel Hill. The road victory for Duke is the first over the Tar Heels since 1999.
Scotty Taylor scored the winning goal in the 63rd minute, while Daniel Wright and Brandon Williamson both had tallies to help orchestrate a comeback from 2-0 down in the first half. The three goals scored by the Blue Devils are the most against a North Carolina team since a 3-2 win in Durham in 2004.
Duke stops a three-game skid and improves to 5-3-0 and 1-2-0 in conference action.
The first half was a frantic one that featured three goals and changes in momentum. The Tar Heels grabbed the early 2-0 lead only to have the Blue Devils battle back to make it 2-1 and dominate the action in the final 18 minutes of the opening 45.
North Carolina (4-2-2, 2-1) controlled the run of play early and capitalized on its two quality chances to go ahead 2-0 within the first 26 minutes. Alex Rose and Jelani Pieters had the tallies for North Carolina.
“It was disappointing [to go down 2-0],” said head coach John Kerr. “We were sloppy in possession and sloppy in terms of our defending. We made it much too easy for them to score those two goals.”
A resilient Duke huddled together immediately after giving up the second goal and whatever was said in those moments struck a chord as the Blue Devils cut the lead in half 63 seconds later.
“You can’t even put into words [how important that goal was],” said Williamson. “We talked about it before the game that if they score two the game isn’t over. The Duke – UNC game is always like that. It’s such a hard game. It doesn’t always come down to who how the most possession. I’m so proud of the boys not giving up. We needed some energy and that’s what gave it to us.”
The play started after a Daniele Proch shot from 20 yards was saved by North Carolina goalie Alec Smir, giving the Blue Devils a corner kick. With the Tar Heels unable to clear the ball cleanly, Brandon Williamson got the ball with plenty of time and pushed it out to Wright at the corner of the box.
The junior forward took a few touches and hit his shot into the left upper 90 to cut the Tar Heel lead to one at halftime.
“We got a little bit of life when Daniel Wright got that goal back,” Kerr said. “At halftime I asked the boys if they felt the same way I did. We can go on and win this game and they looked at me and agreed in their eyes that they could do something. They felt it and I’m glad they put a great second half. They deserved to win.”
The Blue Devils, after having the better of play to end the first half, carried that momentum into the second half and equalized in the 58th minute on a spectacular goal from Williamson.
The senior captain got the ball in the offensive third and served it on a platter out to Proch on the left side. Proch provided the fireworks from there, cleverly beating his Tar Heel defender and slotting it back to Williamson at the 12-yard spot for the well-struck finish past Smir.
Duke’s confidence went to another level in the 63rd minute when rookie Scotty Taylor capitalized on a North Carolina miscue in the back and easily beat Smir past the near post on a one-on-one effort for the 3-2 lead.
While Duke was better on the ball and doing well to find feet and possess throughout the second half, North Carolina continued to press in the second half and Will Pulisic came up big twice to keep the Tar Heels off the board.
As time started to tick down on the clock, Duke never wavered and pulled off the upset road win to get the three crucial points in ACC play.
Pulisic finished with four saves, including a pair of outstanding ones in the second half, while Smir had two. The Tar Heels held a 13-8 edge in shots.
Duke begins its midweek action Tuesday, Oct. 1 against Wright State. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., on ACC Network Extra.