DURHAM, N.C. - Air Force is one of the highest-scoring teams in college lacrosse this season, averaging nearly 12 goals. But even with an offense fueled by five 20-goal scorers, it's tough to put the ball in the net when you don't have possession.
It's a problem that led to the Falcons' undoing in Sunday's 20-9 loss at Duke.
By dominating the faceoff circle, the top-seeded Blue Devils also dominated the scoreboard - reeling off seven straight goals in the second quarter to put a disappointing end to Air Force's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1988.
"Possession time was a big factor," Falcons coach Eric Seremet said. "I thought my offensive guys were pretty confident with the ball when they had it. They just didn't have it much."
A big reason for that was Duke faceoff man Brendan Fowler. The former football player won six of the game's first seven draws and 15 of 25 through three quarters against the Air Force tandem of Bryan Price and Erik Smith.
That advantage stunted any momentum the Falcons gained from their opening-round NCAA victory against Richmond on Wednesday and created an early deficit they were never able to overcome.
"They got off to a good start and they kept it going," senior attackman Mike Crampton said. "We played much better later on in the game, but unfortunately you have to play a good 60 minutes in a game at this level."
Despite their difficulty gaining possession, the Falcons (11-6) managed to stay close with the defending national champions for just over a quarter. Tommy McKee's goal in transition less than two minutes into the second period pulled Air Force to within 5-3.
But, after a shot hit the pipe, that's when the bottom dropped out.
Duke (14-3) answered with a methodical scoring blitz that saw six players score seven times in rapid succession to effectively put the Falcons away.
Seremet tried everything to slow the Blue Devils down. He switched goalies, pulling starter Brett Dadiego after the first nine goals and replacing him with Doug Gouchoe. He switched from a man-to-man defense to a zone and back to the man-to-man without success.
Duke's lead grew to 12-3 by halftime and 18-6 before three straight Air Force goals early in the fourth quarter - two by Crampton and one by Kyle Cassady - helped make the final score a little more respectable.
Crampton and Cassady finished with three goals each, while McKee had two and Smith one. Myles Jones, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound midfielder Seremet called "quite a large human being," paced Duke with three goals and five assists.
"When you're in a game like that, you try to look for answers," Seremet said. "We tried to mix it up and put in a zone to try to maybe throw them off rhythm. But they're slick. They sling the ball around.
"We went from man to zone to man, tried different matchups. . I wish we were a little better tonight, but Duke's a very good team."