Rivalry magic must have been the only explanation on Sunday for a winless Duke team coming into Karen Shelton Stadium, scoring the most points by any Tar Heel opponent on their home field and nearly upsetting the North Carolina field hockey dynasty.
The Tar Heels haven't lost a game at home since 2017 and remain a perfect 27-0 in their new stadium. But Sunday, in a nonconference game that carried no weight other than pride, that streak appeared to be in jeopardy.
The Blue Devils entered aware of the Goliath that is North Carolina field hockey, given the 4-0 defeat they were dealt earlier this season at the hands of the Tar Heels. But they also brought something else: a fire, ignited on Tobacco Road and exacerbated by a rivalry between two schools, only 8 miles apart.
That fire drove Duke to score first and score fast, showcasing an aggressive, grind-it-out style of field hockey. The quick goal by Duke's Josie Varney was only the second time a Tar Heel opponent had scored first this season. That previous instance resulted in a defeat that snapped a two-season long victory streak for UNC.
"We definitely try to not let somebody else get ahead like that," UNC forward Erin Matson said, "especially them. We don't want to give them any confidence."
After the first Blue Devil strike, UNC quickly evened the score, 20 seconds later, on a goal from Cassie Sumfest off a penalty corner. The two teams exchanged another goal apiece before heading into halftime, tied at 2-2.
"We just needed to play with more intensity," head coach Karen Shelton said. "They were out-hustling us and beating us to the balls. Some things are not complicated. Your work rate and your intensity level you can control, and Duke was far more motivated than us."
The Tar Heels found that intensity at the half — they came out of the locker room to score two goals, both off the stick of midfielder Eva Smolenaars.
"We connected really well," she said, "and I think we were really confident in our own abilities."