BLACKSBURG, Va.—When the offense could not put the game away, Duke’s special teams and defense stepped up and led the Blue Devils to a 13-10 road victory and made Duke bowl eligible two years in a row for the first time in team history.
Led by linebacker Kelby Brown, Duke’s defense forced four turnovers and stepped up down the stretch. A Brown interception and Brandon Connette fourth down conversion in the final five minutes clinched the victory for the Blue Devils against No. 16 Virginia Tech.
The win gave Duke (6-2, 2-2 in the ACC) its first victory against a ranked opponent on the road since Oct. 2, 1971 when the Blue Devils took down Stanford. It was also Duke's first road victory against Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1) in program history.
"This is the reason I came to Duke, to play in big games like this," offensive guard Dave Harding said. "That’s the reason everyone else chose to go to Duke when it wasn’t the cool thing to do. We came together in a total team victory in all three phases of the game."
Saturday’s game was marked by struggles for both team's quarterbacks. Duke’s Anthony Boone and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas combined for eight interceptions on the day, though Thomas came on strong in the second half.
Boone struggled throughout the contest, as he threw for 107 yards on 7-of-25 with four interceptions. Along with the interceptions, he missed several open receivers on overthrows, including a pair of throws that flew over the outstretched hands of a wide-open Crowder. Boone also did not complete a pass in the second half.
"The guys around me really battled and they really helped me out and defense helped us out a lot," Boone said.
Duke had its opportunities early on. Redshirt senior cornerback Garrett Patterson picked off an errant pass by Thomas and returned it to Virginia Tech’s 27-yard line to give the Blue Devils their best starting field position of the day. Two plays later on third-and-6, Kendall Fuller dove in front of Boone's to register his second of three interceptions of the day and put an end to the Blue Devils’ momentum.
The Hokies also had issues converting their scoring opportunities. Cody Journell missed two kicks, each with a chance to tie the game—the second coming with 6:02 remaining.
"We had a game plan and we just made plays," Brown said. "That’s what it came down to. We made plays in critical situations in the red zone. [Virginia Tech’s] missed field goals…. We came up big every time we needed to."
Duke kicker Ross Martin nailed a 51-yard field goal with 12:27 left in the second quarter to give the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead. Then with six seconds left in the half, Martin came on to nail a career-long 53-yard field goal to give Duke a 6-0 lead entering halftime.
The Blue Devil defense was stout in the first half, as Virginia Tech was held scoreless in the first half for the first time all season, holding Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas to just 83 yards through the air and forcing three interceptions.
"Duke played well," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "They undercut us on a lot of balls and their defensive backs played really tough against us."
After struggling through the air in the first half, Boone took to the ground to begin the second half. He rushed for 31 yards on Duke’s first drive, punching it in for a 9-yard touchdown to give the Blue Devils a 13-0 lead.
A three-and-out following a Jeremy Cash interception led to a Will Monday punt that pinned the Hokies at their own 1-yard line and seemed to bode well for Duke’s defense. But Thomas finally got his game going and hit receiver Demitri Knowles for a 56-yard completion on the first play of the drive, eventually leading Virginia Tech 99 yards down the field and pounding it into the end zone himself to cut Duke's lead to 13-7.
The momentum swung back to the Hokies after the score. The Blue Devils opened the fourth quarter with a false start and an intentional grounding on back-to-back plays, with Boone getting shaken up to end the drive. Virginia Tech took over and Journell made up for his early miss as he nailed a 42-yard field goal to make it 13-10.
But the Duke’s defense stood strong. With Thomas and the Hokies driving and Duke clinging to a three-point lead, Brown snatched a deflected pass out of the air to give the ball back the Blue Devils with 4:22 left in the game.
"I got hit pretty hard," Brown said. "I was just glad to have that ball when I got up. That’s all that mattered."
After the Hokies held Duke three plays in a row, Connette came in and spun his way to a first down. With less than three minutes left and Virginia Tech out of timeouts, Boone was able to run the clock out and seal the victory for the Blue Devils.
"Through the ups and downs of this game, we believed," Harding said. "This team believed that we could win, that we would win and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy."