CHAPEL HILL — Shots deflected off crossbars, posts and were blocked by diving defenders. None of them went in Friday night at Fetzer Field, leaving Duke and North Carolina in a 0-0 tie.
Both teams had entered the match looking for their first win in the ACC. North Carolina (3-1-5, 0-0-5 ACC), ranked No. 6 in the country, entered having tied each of its prior four ACC contests. Duke (4-4-2, 0-3-2) had dropped three of its first four conference games, with only one point to show from a tie against Virginia Tech.
After a ragged first 10 minutes, North Carolina settled in first. Beginning in the 13th minute, the Tar Heels’ midfield of Verneri Valimaa, Raby George and Omar Holness began to gain the balance of possession in the midfield. Over the next 20 minutes, UNC probed the Blue Devils’ defense from both sides, with both Tar Heels backs serving repetitive balls into Duke’s box. But Duke’s strong central backs, senior Sebastien Ibeagha and sophomore Zach Mathers, repelled the attacks.
“(Mathers) was solid as a rock,” Duke coach John Kerr said. “And brave as a lion back there.”
The Tar Heels almost broke through in the 19th minute, when Duke right back Jack Coleman slipped, letting Valimaa dribble in on Duke goalie Alex Long unopposed. Valimaa launched a shot to the lower corner, but Long was able to dive to his left and deflect it aside.
The complexion of the game changed when Duke brought in its young dynamic players around the 25th minute. Freshmen Brody Huitema and Seo-In Kim in particular gave the Blue Devils a spark, and play evened out for the balance of the half. Yet both teams remained unable to find the final pass that would provide an unobstructed shot on goal, and neither goalie was seriously threatened.
The second half continued the game’s theme, with more gritty battles in the midfield.
“We were trying to add passes to our possession,” UNC coach Carlos Somoano said. “Trying to let things open up. But we had a sense of anxiety, wanting to score so badly, and we could not find the opening.”
It was Duke that got the best chance of the second half. In the 66th minute, Duke senior Alex Sauciuc was able to thread a diagonal pass to Huitema, whose one-time shot beat UNC goalie Brendan Moore but clanked off the crossbar.
“Brody was very sharp today,” Kerr said. “He added that extra energy in the final third. He got unlucky when the shot went off the crossbar.”
After time expired, the exhausted teams fought through two scoreless overtime periods that were characterized by increasing caution, as neither team wanted to permit a late, heart-breaking goal. Both defenses held, and the teams left the pitch with a draw.
“We are not trying to tie games,” said Somoano regarding his team’s fifth conference draw. “Our objective is to win. When we don’t meet that goal, it is frustrating.”