(Photo Courtesy of Duke Blue Devils)
The Duke Blue Devils opened their 2020 season with a home loss against the Air Force Falcons. And while it’s just the third time in the last 10 years that the Falcons had taken down the Blue Devils, it’s certainly not the first time Duke has lost in February.
Duke has lost now at least one game in February to either a mid-major program or lower ranked opponent each of the past four years. It has practically become a celebrated tradition amongst the college lacrosse world.
Here is a closer look at this early-season Duke trend:
Duke’s 2016 is mostly remembered for how Loyola, led by a freshman Pat Spencer, ate them alive in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, despite having some heavyweights such as Myles Jones and Deemer Class leading the way.
However, 2016 was the last season that Duke did not lose to a mid-major team in February. But they did loose a top-three matchup against Denver down in Kennesaw, Ga on February 20th. The Blue Devils also took three tough losses in March, losing to Harvard and Richmond in back-to-back games, before taking an overtime loss against Air Force at home. That was Air Force’s first-ever win over the Blue Devils.
In 2017, Duke went 13-5 and finished with an NCAA Quarterfinal loss against Ohio State. However, two of those losses were in February, one in March, and two were in the postseason.
Their first loss of the season that year came against Air Force in their home opener, just like this year. And to add salt to the wound, it was a one-goal, 11-10, loss. In the game, Duke got ahead 6-5 at the half but the Falcons went on a five-goal run in the second half to help them secure the win. Justin Guterding had two goals late in the game to try and lift up the Blue Devils, but they couldn’t complete the comeback. Duke’s other February loss that season was to a Denver team that was ranked number one in the nation.
The Blue Devils opened up 2018 with Air Force, High Point, and Jacksonville as their first three games on the schedule. And they were able to get by each of them without much trouble, and then they even took down Denver 15-12 in their fourth game of the season. But when they went to Philadelphia as the number one team in the country and faced 17th ranked Penn squad, the script flipped.
Duke was able to get ahead 7-4 at the half, but Penn went 1-0 in the third to give them some momentum heading into the fourth. And they used that energy to outscore the Blue Devils 5-2 in the fourth, ending the game on a four-goal run to secure the upset victory, thus resurrecting the Duke always loses early talk.
In 2019, Duke opened the season against Furman, High Point, and Jacksonville. They also played Richmond on March 1st. And while they were able to get by Furman and Jacksonville with much ease, they struggled against Richmond and took a loss to High Point.
Against High Point, things were very tight up until the fourth quarter. And in that fourth, High Point went on a six-goal run to get ahead 12-7 with 9:03 in the quarter. And while Duke was able to get two late goals, Chris Young scored his fourth goal of the game late to secure the 13-9 win for the Panthers.
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils took their third ever loss to Air Force on Saturday. Despite missing Joe Robertson, Duke was able to come out of the gates hot on both ends and got ahead 6-1 with 4:53 in the first. They led 6-3 entering the second.
But after that first quarter, the Blue Devils really started to slow down in all aspects of the game. They allowed the Falcons to go on multiple multi-goal runs, including a four-goal run in the fourth that sealed the deal.
One thing that all of these early-season Duke loses have in common is that the Blue Devils started to fall apart after a good start or just allowed the opponent to hang around for much longer than they should have, allowing them to bite big whenever they wanted.
Whether it’s a conditioning issue, because of injuries, or simply rust, the one certain thing is these losses do not seem to hinder Duke later in the season. The Blue Devils still put all the puzzle pieces together from March through May, finishing as a top-tier team and in contention for a spot on Memorial Day Weekend.
So take February losses from Duke with a grain of salt if you want. But as history shows, they will likely happen, but probably don’t say much about the Blue Devils as a whole and won’t have any effect on them come May. And the same could be said about the majority of February results.