WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—In a matchup of teams looking to snap long losing streaks, the Blue Devils finally got the monkey off their backs.

Duke defeated Wake Forest 27-21 Saturday at BB&T Field, picking up its first win since a four-overtime victory at Virginia Tech Oct. 24. As was the case against the Hokies, senior Max McCaffrey caught a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Thomas Sirk, and the Blue Devil defense forced three Demon Deacon turnovers to end the season with a win after four straight conference losses.

Duke led 24-7 entering the fourth quarter, but was able to withstand a late comeback attempt from Wake Forest to secure a third straight winning season.

“I think there’s no question that [the losing streak] eats at you, whether you’re a player or a coach,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Anybody that says ‘Ah, we weren’t paying attention to it,’ you realize you’re listening to a guy that won’t tell the truth.”

Sirk and backup Parker Boehme alternated series under center on the first three possessions, but Sirk separated himself and earned all the snaps from there on out. The redshirt junior led the Blue Devils (7-5, 4-4 in the ACC) down the field on the game’s first possession, but Ross Martin’s 39-yard field goal attempt sailed just wide of the right upright to deny Duke an early lead. Boehme’s first series resulted in a three-and-out, and the redshirt sophomore did not see another snap.

On Sirk’s next series, the Glen St. Mary, Fla., native again put the offense in the red zone and found McCaffrey on an out-and-up route down the right sideline for the game’s first touchdown. Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7) answered immediately with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Tyler Bell, but Sirk countered with a 75-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard scamper for the Blue Devil signal-caller. Martin tacked on a 51-yard field goal—his seventh career boot of more than 50 yards—on the last play of the second quarter to give Duke a 17-7 halftime edge.

Nine different Blue Devils caught passes Saturday, with McCaffrey leading the way with 93 yards and the two scores. Redshirt junior Anthony Nash and freshman T.J. Rahming added seven catches apiece and combined for 121 yards.

“We were spreading the ball all around today. You saw so many different guys getting the ball, and they all did their jobs,” Sirk said. “If we can maintain drives and keep our defense off the field and they can get three and outs, that’s good for us.

Duke held Wake Forest to just four first downs in the first half while picking up 18, all without the services of All-America strike safety Jeremy Cash. The Miami native was forced to sit out the first half after he was ejected from the Blue Devils’ 42-34 loss at Virginia last weekend for a targeting penalty.

By rule, Cash spent the first half in the locker room away from the on-field action and so did not get to witness the stalwart defensive effort in person. But his teammates had a message for him during halftime.

“Everybody was giving him a round of applause at halftime, saying ‘Fresh legs coming in the game,’” redshirt junior DeVon Edwards said.

Wake Forest marched into the red zone in three plays on its first drive of the third quarter, unafraid to throw right at Cash, who returned to the lineup at the beginning of the third quarter. But the drive stalled after consecutive pass break-ups in the end zone by redshirt sophomore Phillip Carter and Edwards, who spent the afternoon playing cornerback instead of his usual safety position. Demon Deacon kicker Mike Weaver missed the ensuing 28-yard field goal attempt and the momentum swung back in Duke’s favor.

The Blue Devils made the botched field goal hurt even more as Sirk engineered another long touchdown drive, again finding McCaffrey for a touchdown—this time from 28 yards out. Sirk completed all four of his passes on the drive and McCaffrey absorbed a hit from the Wake Forest defender right at the goal line to sneak across the plane.

“I saw him come screaming in, so I knew I had to do a tight-body catch or else I was probably going to get separated,” McCaffrey said. “[Sirk] put it out there for us to catch and allowed us to make plays.”

Sirk finished the day 26-of-39 for 275 yards through the air with three total touchdowns—two passing and one rushing.

Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford kept things interesting, though, leading the Demon Deacons on a 91-yard drive in less than four minutes to trim the deficit to 24-14. The home team looked to be gathering steam after a Duke punt and two plays of 10-plus yards, but Wolford’s third turnover of the afternoon—a diving interception by cornerback Breon Borders with 7:12 left—allowed the Blue Devils to run precious time off the clock.

Borders’ pick was the third takeaway of the game for the Blue Devil defense, following a Deondre Singleton fumble recovery and an Allen Jackson interception. The Duke offense, which struggled mightily with turnovers during the losing streak, held onto the ball all afternoon.

“We didn’t do the things that we’ve been doing of late, and it made all the difference for us,” redshirt senior tight end Braxton Deaver said. “The past couple weeks have been pretty rough for us, and we got accustomed to winning there for a little bit. To get that taste of a win…it makes you remember what it feels like.”

With seven seconds left, punter Will Monday booted the ball away one final time, and Wake Forest fielded the punt at its own goal line. In poetic fashion, the Blue Devils handled the kick coverage well and brought down the return man before he reached the 10 yard line, just less than a month after Miami’s eight-lateral kickoff return stunned Wallace Wade Stadium and kickstarted Duke’s four-game tailspin.

“Flashbacks definitely come into your mind, but I was confident the whole time that we were going to get him down,” Borders said.

Duke now awaits its postseason fate, as bowl selections will be determined Dec. 6. The Blue Devils will begin practice in earnest the following weekend, Cutcliffe said, but until then he plans on giving players like Sirk who have played through injury a chance to rest and get healthy.

He also can feel a little bit better heading into the unknown after a victory instead of a fifth straight loss.

“I’m going recruiting tomorrow and when I get up and go at 5 o’clock in the morning, I’m going to feel a bit better than I have the past couple of weeks,” Cutcliffe said. “I have no idea where we’re going [for a bowl game but] I know we’re going to get back to practice. We have a lot of work to get done.”