Aidan Wiess | Staff Writer
On a Senior Day filled with drama across the conference, Duquesne pulled out a 2-1 victory over the La Salle Explorers to move into the fifth seed of this week’s Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. Midfielder Ask Ekeland starred with two goals in the win.
The day began with multiple possibilities, as the Dukes were in seventh place to start the day but had a range of outcomes that could have placed them between second and eighth place in the conference standings. On the other hand, the Explorers were playing for pride’s sake, trying to stay out of last place to end their season.
The game started quickly with La Salle fighting hard in its last game, and its aggressiveness translated into a quick yellow card in the third minute. However, La Salle’s fight quickly led to some early Duquesne turnovers, and one such turnover in their own half led to a corner kick. Explorer midfielder Dylan Kwasnik scored an “olimpico,” where a player curls the ball into the net directly off a corner kick.
Ask Ekeland saw Kwasnik’s outstanding, set-piece goal and went for another one of his own. Following his jaw-dropping, half-field goal against Wright State, Ekeland took a free kick from 35 yards out and calmly curled it into the top left corner to knot the game up in the 19th minute, giving him another highlight moment this season.
From there, the rest of the first half was tightly contested, with both sides having potential scoring chances. However, each goalkeeper made two saves apiece to keep the game level at the half.
The second half got off to a chippy start. As a long ball to Duquesne’s Jayden Da went into the air, La Salle goalkeeper Filip Sabatti came flying off his line and slid directly into the legs of Da, completely missing the ball. Although the Duquesne sideline was clamoring for a red card, Sabatti was only assessed a yellow, and the game continued.
A great opportunity for the Dukes came in the 73rd minute when defender Christoffer Vie Angell found open space at the top of the box, but the shot was pushed wide.
The chippy nature of the game came to a head with a bizarre sequence in the 77th minute. Duquesne’s Jaxon Ervin got a yellow card for a takedown, but it did not seem like an especially dirty challenge. However, the La Salle sideline shouted their displeasure. When the dust settled, La Salle’s head coach had been sent off with a red card, and an assistant coach and bench player were also assessed yellow cards.
From there, Duquesne’s relentless push for a second half goal continued, and they finally broke through in the 85th minute when Ekeland came flying down the field and put away a sensational pass from senior Nate Dragisich to give the Dukes the lead, which they would not relinquish.
After results were finalized throughout the league, the Dukes learned they would be traveling to North Carolina to take on the fourth-seeded Davidson Wildcats in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.
Head Coach Chase Brooks recognized the challenge of playing on the road in the postseason.
“This time of year, it’s just about being healthy,” he said. “That’s going to be what we focus on, just making sure we’re healthy and making sure we clean up some of our little deficiencies we have this time of year and continue to try to build momentum and build confidence.”
“We just have to take every game like it’s our last,” said senior midfielder Nate Dragisich. “Elimination soccer is fun, nerve-wracking; it’s all the emotions in one. We just got to go out and play our game.”
Ekeland’s two goals were also a hot topic, as his two strikes secured his finish as the second-leading goal scorer in the entire league.
“Ask would be the first to tell you it wasn’t his best game overall, but then he pops up with goals in big moments,” Brooks said. “Those are things that you can’t coach, those are the intangibles that you love to have, and Ask is a tremendous player who’s had a great year.”
Lost in the intensity of the game and the playoff race was the Senior Day celebration that occurred before the game. Among the veterans honored was Dragisich. He assisted on Ekeland’s winner, and recently set the all-time appearance record at Duquesne.
“It’s been a long ride,” he said. “I came into a program that was not in a good spot, and I’m proud to have been a part of turning it upside down and making it become a year-to-year competitor in the A-10. It means a lot, I’ve had a lot of fun here, and I’m not done yet.”
The Dukes are back in action for the first round of the conference tournament at fourth-seeded Davidson University on Friday at 7 p.m.