The fifth-seeded NC State men’s soccer team advanced to the quarterfinal of the ACC Championship on Wednesday with a 2-1 win over 12th-seeded Duke.
“It had a tournament feel to it,” said head coach George Kiefer. “You had a group that is below .500; [Duke] sort of have to win the game. So, I think they threw a lot at us, but I'm more interested in when you look at where we were: Two tough losses that can make teams crumble.”
The Wolfpack’s (9-5-3) offense jumped out early, netting the first two goals in the opening half, but it was its defense that proved the difference-maker, weathering the Blue Devils’ (7-9-2) pushback.
The Pack got the scoring going early with sophomore midfielder Pepe Garcia grabbing the opening goal in the fifth minute. The defender-turned-midfielder made a run at the far post, and sophomore midfielder Ivy Brisma found him with a great cross from the opposite wing.
“I have a guy that is one of our advisors, Paul Forster, and he says we should get two early goals,” Kiefer said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, good Paul, I'll tell the guys that. That's a good plan.’ But to pick up the early goal with where we were, I think that helped for sure.”
The Wolfpack continued to put on the pressure as the half went on, with the only chances coming for the Blue Devils on the counterattack. Despite this control, it took the Pack another 18 minutes to grab a second goal.
Junior midfielder David Loera picked up the ball a few yards outside the Blue Devils box, turned and found leading scorer sophomore forward Kuda Muskwe, who took a great first touch to get around his defender before slotting it home.
“It's a great little ball from Jamie [Smith] into David [Loera],” Muskwe said. “Then you just let David do what he wants to do, and he will get you the ball. He did, and I just took a touch and found it in the back of the net.”
After the goal, the Blue Devils started to mount some pressure of their own and eventually capitalized on that pressure in the 29th minute. A well-worked short corner routine found Daniele Proch open just outside the six, and the midfielder hammered a first-time shot into the back of the net.
It looked like the Blue Devils had pulled to game level from yet another corner in the dying embers of the half. Suniel Veerakone flicked a header toward the far post, but redshirt senior goalkeeper Vinnie Durand came up with a wonderful diving save to preserve the Pack’s lead going into the half.
“It was like a tale of two halves; the first 25, I’d give to us, the second 20, I’d give to them,” Kiefer said. “Vinny is coming into my office, and we always meet, meeting all the time ... What does he have to do, how does he get on it, and to see him have the success he's having is excellent. That was a huge save he made for us.”
The Blue Devils continued to build on this momentum in the second half, but the Pack’s defense held strong. In the end, the Blue Devils outshot the Wolfpack 6-4 in the second half and 11-10 overall, but thanks to Durand’s big save and a solid defensive performance, the Pack was able to hold on and win 2-1.
One of the standouts in the defense was freshman center back Kendall Edwards, who slotted into the middle of the back three in place of the injured junior center back David Norris. Prior to the match, Edwards had played just 627 minutes this season, but he played the full 90 against the Blue Devils and showed that he is capable of stepping into the defense when called upon.
“If you look at the minutes Kendall’s played, I think he started seven or eight games,” Kiefer said. “We've been rotating Kendall a fair amount, and I thought he did well. I thought his second half was excellent, the stuff in the air and that. To throw a freshman into an ACC Tournament game was good for him.”
The Pack will be back in action on Sunday as it travels up to Pennsylvania to face fourth-seeded Pitt in the ACC Championship quarterfinal at 3 p.m.