Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor
Jayden Da continued his torrid start to the 2023 campaign, stabbing home the game-winning goal as Duquesne bested Robert Morris 1-0 on Wednesday night.
His 71st minute winner gave the Colonials their first loss of the season, and ensured that the junior has scored in four consecutive games for the Dukes. Duquesne is unbeaten in matches where Da finds the back of the net. He scored both goals on Saturday night, when the Dukes pulled off a 2-1 victory over Niagara.
With neither team able to crack the scoreboard and his squad down to 10 men, Da jumped into action to rescue the Dukes. In the 71st minute, Tate Mohney launched a throw-in that dropped into the penalty area. It ricocheted into the 6-yard box, where Da lunged the ball into the net for his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
“I just dived for the ball, and it slowly rolled in,” Da said.
“He’s a big boy, he’s tough to deal with,” Brooks said, “If you can get him near frame, he’s going to be dangerous.”
Some shoving between the players after the final whistle punctuated what was a tense battle between the rivals.
“We knew it was going to be an ugly game when we went down to 10 men,” said Head Coach Chase Brooks. “And it was just whether or not we had it in us to get that result.”
The contest’s unhinged nature was apparent from the beginning, when a premature movement by the Dukes caused a redone kickoff, and 10 seconds that had elapsed to be put back on the clock.
Those 10 seconds would become priceless later. With four seconds to go before halftime, Ben Pleavin undercut a jumping Colonial, causing both men to topple, and earning the Dukes’ midfielder his second yellow card.
Coming on as a substitute, Pleavin played 17 minutes before being sent off. Brooks was animatedly upset with the referee’s decision.
“In a game like this, crosstown rival, you’ve got to be absolutely certain there is intent. To me there was no intent,” he said, “I give our guys credit, they battled through the adversity.”
Down a man, Duquesne opened the second half with a drastically more conservative playing style. A higher proportion of players sat goal side of the ball, leaving their lone striker out on an island.
Smelling blood in the water, the Colonials amplified the pressure. Their first dangerous opportunity came seven minutes into the second half, when a shot from Robert Morris captain Chase Gilley forced Nagy to make a sliding save in close quarters.
It wasn’t until the back end of the half that the undermanned Dukes found an offensive revival.
“Coaches adjusted the formation at the beginning of the half. It took us a while to get used to it,” Da said. “But once we were able to fully accept the formation and go with the flow of it, we were able to create more chances.”
Ask Ekeland nearly relieved the Dukes of an intense final stretch, when with 14:30 on the clock, he launched a shot from outside the box that rattled the crossbar. Da nearly made it a brace for himself in the closing minutes but collapsed to the turf in dismay when Colonial keeper Kieran Gorgenyi managed to deflect it off course.
However, the lead remained at just one, forcing Duquesne to hold their breath defensively until the clock hit zeroes. Nagy finished the night with four saves, as well as a slew of interventions that extinguished Colonial chances. The shutout was Duquesne’s first clean sheet of the year, having conceded in every game prior to Wednesday.
Da attributed the team’s milestone to the adverse circumstances they faced.
“Honestly I think it had something to do with going down a man,” he said, “Knowing that we’d have to take our priorities defensively first, and then once we get the opportunities to attack and take our chances, we have to go all in for them.”
Meanwhile, the Dukes have scored in every game this year. Their matches have averaged over three goals per game between the two sides.
“I’d rather not be high scoring on both sides of the ball. I think we’ve given up too many goals this year for sure,” Brooks said. “Give me a 1-0 and clean sheets the rest of the year I’d take it.”
The Dukes sit at 3-1-1 on the season and will look to continue their hot streak on Saturday night when they host UMass.