Irish defenseman Matt Miller remembers his first postseason game against Duke well. He was a freshman at the time. The five-second clip of the Blue Devils’ C.J. Costabile winning the opening faceoff of overtime and streaking through the center of Notre Dame’s defense to clinch a national championship is seared into Miller’s mind.
Senior Matt Miller, left, checks a Yale attackman in last year's opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Junior midfielder Jim Marlatt sat in the stands of Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium to watch Costabile’s goal as a high school senior. He got a better sense of how Miller felt the following year when Duke knocked off No. 4 Notre Dame in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Championship.
“It’s probably our biggest rival since I’ve been here,” Marlatt said.
Notre Dame has played Duke six times in the past four seasons, as many as any other opponent. They haven’t all been bad memories. Marlatt scored two goals in his first college game against the Blue Devils and a career-high five goals in a 13-5 win to start the 2013 season. The current group of Irish seniors is 4-2 against Duke, but they have never beaten them in the NCAA Championship. They’ll try to change that this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The two teams will face off at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for the next chapter in what is becoming one of the sport’s top rivalries outside of the traditional northeastern bluebloods.
“Both teams don’t like each other that much,” Miller said. “We definitely want to end their season like they’ve ended ours twice. We have a lot of respect for them, but we’re really excited to play them again.”
Duke arrived in Indianapolis via a double-overtime win last weekend against Loyola (Md.), another that team that ended Notre Dame’s national title hopes by beating them in the national semifinals last year. The Irish beat MAAC champion Detroit last week to earn their chance for revenge against Duke.
They haven’t exactly roared into the quarterfinal round. Notre Dame lost back-to-back games with Syracuse to end the regular season and the Big East Championship. Then they struggled for three quarters with Detroit before coming from behind to win 9-7 in the fourth quarter.
Prior to that six-goal comeback, the Irish offense had scored only eight times in 11 quarters. Head coach Kevin Corrigan knows that against Duke, the country’s third-best scoring offense with 13.94 goals per game, his team will need to be better when they have the ball.
“They play in a way where they’re going to force you to play offense,” Corrigan said. “You’ve gotta score it’s as simple as that. It’s really just about making plays.”
The last team to beat Duke — North Carolina in the ACC Tournament — scored 18 goals. Duke scored 17. The Blue Devils are at their best while scoring in transition and forcing opponents to play an uptempo game. They attack one-on-one battles on defense, rather than patiently take away options as a unit like the Irish do. That means the six players on Notre Dame’s offensive half off the field will have to be ready to take advantage of the aggressive style.
“They pressure out and that opens up a lot of space in the midfield which I’ve been able to benefit from,” Marlatt said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Notre Dame scored 13 times in the teams’ first meeting on Feb. 16, which ties for its second-most goals in a game this season. Corrigan said recent history has taught him to expect a much different Duke team the second time around.
The Blue Devils have a habit of starting slow and developing an identity throughout the spring. This year they lost four of their first six games, but still finished an 11-4 regular season as the No. 6 team in the country. Notre Dame knows how Duke builds momentum in the postseason as well as any team in the country. And whether they talk about it or not, their recent history will be on their minds this weekend.
“It’s not something that’s part of our conversation, but I’m not naïve enough to think that our guys don’t think about being one goal away from winning the national championship,” Corrigan said. “They understand that. It’s there even though I haven’t heard it mentioned a single time.”