DURHAM, N.C. -- For the second time in two weeks it all came down to the right foot of Duke junior Kelly Cobb as the Blue Devils upended Arkansas 5-3 in a penalty kick shootout on Sunday to advance to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. Duke and the Razorbacks finished the game deadlocked at 2-2 to set up the finish.
Duke (9-8-6) advances to the quarterfinal round for the seventh time in program history and for the third consecutive season. The Blue Devils will take on top-seeded and ACC tournament runner-up Virginia Tech at 4 p.m. Friday in Blacksburg, Va.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s unbelievable,” head coach Robbie Church said. “There’s not that many people that believed we’d be in the final eight. A lot of people had written us off throughout the course of the year. This team finds ways to fight back. It wasn’t our best game of the year. We left a lot of chances out there. You have to give Arkansas a lot of credit. They fought, hung in there, and did what they do best. They were able to get their two goals, but we’re moving on.”
Senior Kim DeCesare registered both scores in regulation for Duke, while Arkansas (15-8-1) battled back from a goal down twice to force overtime. It marked Duke’s seventh overtime game of the season and eighth for the Razorbacks.
After battling to a thrilling 2-2 tie in 110 minutes of action, Duke and Arkansas made their way to the penalty box for the shootout. The Blue Devils and Razorbacks didn’t miss a beat as they knocked home the first four shots overall to remain tied 2-2. After Christina Gibbons, Duke’s third shooter, calmly put her 12-yard shot away, Duke goalkeeper Ali Kershner came up with arguably the biggest save of her career. Kershner dove to her left to stop the shot and Laura Weinberg finished her chance to set up Cobb for the clinching goal.
Duke dominated the action in the first half, generating quality scoring opportunities within the opening minutes. After just missing through much of the half, the Blue Devils broke through in the 37th minute on a great individual effort from Gibbons to find DeCesare in the box. Gibbons beat her defender to the endline and was able to slot the ball across the box where DeCesare knocked it home in a crowd for the 1-0 lead.
Arkansas came out in the second half and was able to put the Blue Devils on their heels in the early going. The Razorbacks, with the momentum in their favor, scored the equalizer in the 68th minute off a header from Ashleigh Ellenwood.
The end-to-end action continued and Duke answered six minutes later as Mollie Pathman served in a perfectly flighted ball to the far post where DeCesare headed it home for her second of the day and sixth of the year.
Exactly two minutes later, the Razorbacks capitalized on a Duke defensive miscue that allowed Alexandra Fischer to get in behind the defense and slip a shot into the right corner past Meghan Thomas to make it a 2-2 game.
Duke outshot Arkansas 26-10 for the game and Thomas made five saves for the Blue Devils, while Cameron Carter had 12. Both Duke and the Razorbacks replaced the starting keepers for the shootout.
The winner of the Duke – Virginia Tech game advances to the 2013 NCAA College Cup in Cary, N.C., on Dec., 6-8.