Trailing 14-10 with nine minutes left in the third quarter, Duke finally got the big break it had so desperately needed all season.
Georgia Tech had the ball, facing fourth and goal from the one-yard line. Defensive end Phillip Alexander stopped Yellow Jacket quarterback Reggie Ball just inches from the goal line, sparking an eruption of cheers in Wallace Wade stadium. The Duke defense sprinted triumphantly to the sideline as the Blue Devils enjoyed a surge of momentum that fed their upset hopes.
Unfortunately, reality set in all too quickly for Duke (1-6, 0-4 in the ACC). Quarterback Zack Asack fumbled the exchange from center Matt Rumsey on the ensuing play, giving the Yellow Jackets the ball back at the one-yard line. This time, Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice scored easily, giving the Yellow Jackets (4-2, 2-2) an 11-point lead they would not relinquish, beating the Blue Devils, 35-10, Saturday in Wallace Wade Stadium.
"I don't remember the last time we had a goal line stand here," head coach Ted Roof said. "If you had to name one play, that might have been the biggest play in the ball game."
Georgia Tech scored four touchdowns in an eight-minute stretch of the third quarter to convert a 10-7 halftime deficit into a commanding 35-10 lead. Three penalties on Duke's first second-half possession gave the Yellow Jackets starting field position inside Blue Devil territory. Georgia Tech marched just 43 yards down the field for a 14-10 lead, capped by a one-yard run by Ball.
Asack threw an interception on Duke's next drive giving Georgia Tech the ball at the Blue Devil 40-yard line to start its next possession. Ball drove the offense down to the one-yard line, setting up Duke's goal-line stand. But Asack's fumble on the next play set up Choice's touchdown, extending Georgia Tech's lead to 21-10.
"Just bad decisions by myself," Asack said. "Everyone else was doing great. It's just something I've got to work on."
Everything went downhill from there for the Blue Devils. Three plays after Choice's run, Georgia Tech defensive end Darrell Robertson stepped in front of an Asack pass and returned it 28 yards to the end zone to give the Yellow Jackets a 28-10 lead. After another three-and-out by the Duke offense, Georgia Tech drove 59 yards in just four plays to add its final touchdown on a 1-yard run by Choice, his second score of the game.
"Where we are right now, we don't have the margin for error to continually overcome," Roof said. "We can overcome some things but we cannot overcome the continuous short field in all phases.... We cannot make those mistakes and beat a good team."
Ironically, Georgia Tech miscues were responsible for Duke's halftime lead. The Blue Devils entered the second quarter down just 7-0 despite the Yellow Jackets' 146-9 yard advantage in the first-quarter. A John Talley interception- his fourth of the season-ended one Georgia Tech scoring threat at the Duke 16-yard line.
In the second quarter, the opportunistic Blue Devils used more Yellow Jacket gaffs to revive their offense.
Defensive tackle Casey Camero scooped up a Reggie Ball fumble to stymie a Georgia Tech drive and give the Blue Devils possession at their own 45-yard line. Four plays later, Asack found Roland off a play-action fake for an easy touchdown to tie the game at seven.
Safety Brian Greene broke up a fake punt attempt on Georgia Tech's next drive. The Yellow Jackets appeared to force Duke's offense to go three-and-out, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Blue Devils a fresh set of downs. On the next play, Asack hit Eron Riley for a 38-yard pass play to set up a 23-yard field goal by Joe Surgan.
"It seems like we always start the game riding high, but in the second half we just slack off," cornerback Deonto McCormick said. "We play hard but costly mistakes cost us the second half."
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