ATLANTA—With two minutes left in the third quarter, Bobby Dodd Stadium was about to explode.
Facing third-and-12 from Georgia Tech’s 48-yard line after having gone scoreless for nearly 30 minutes, Daniel Jones dropped back in the pocket, where he found a streaking T.J. Rahming down the middle of the field for a 48-yard touchdown pass that all but silenced the Yellow Jacket faithful.
Rahming’s touchdown kicked off an explosive 21-0 run in just 1:49 that fueled Duke’s 28-14 victory against Georgia Tech in Atlanta Saturday afternoon to spoil the host's homecoming. The Blue Devils took advantage of three straight forced fumbles over the course of their 21-point explosion, as they held the nation’s top-ranked rushing attack to just 229 yards on 3.8 yards per carry.
“Big play. Big play. Daniel throws a perfect ball, T.J. gets behind them,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “A lot of the time I like to have a deep opportunity on third-and-10, third-and-11, because cornerbacks and safeties will sit at the sticks. And they sat at the wrong time.”
An innocent-looking second down run got it all started for the Blue Devils (5-1, 1-1 in the ACC). Yellow Jacket running back Jerry Howard had already made it past the first down marker before he was hit by defensive tackle Axel Nyembwe, who jarred the ball loose into a fellow defender’s hands.
On Georgia Tech’s next set of downs, quarterback TaQuon Marshall coughed up the ball behind the line of scrimmage. After Jones found tight end Davis Koppenhaver for a one-yard touchdown pass, backup running back Mateo Durant forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, sending the Blue Devil faithful into a frenzy.
“It can be a tidal wave so to speak if your team plays with energy and you play the kicking game the way we played the kicking game,” Cutcliffe said.
Jones finished 17-of-27 for 206 yards and three touchdowns, all but putting the finishing touches on the game with a perfectly-thrown six-yard fade to redshirt senior wideout Johnathan Lloyd for Cutcliffe’s squad’s last points of the afternoon.
But before Rahming’s catch, things were looking grim on Duke’s side.
After a quick four-play 52-yard first drive that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown rush by sophomore Deon Jackson—who received his first career start with starter Brittain Brown sidelined—the Blue Devils made some key errors after getting stopped on a fourth-and-one opportunity, as Jones tossed an interception inside two minutes and Rahming misjudged a punt that nearly resulted in a safety.
“We took a shot on fourth-and-1 believing,” Cutcliffe said. “Then, a sack fumble. Then in another possession we get it back and drive a two-minute drill…. It was a really bad decision, it was a bad play. We stopped ourselves.”
Luckily for the offense, Duke’s defense was ready for the Yellow Jackets’ triple option attack. In his first career start, redshirt freshman Chris Rumph II dominated, racking up four tackles for loss and one sack, as the Blue Devils forced five fumbles and finished with 11 tackles for loss on the afternoon.
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As the teams went back and forth trading punts and fourth down turnovers—the teams combined to go 1-for-4 on fourth down opportunities in the half—the game began to get chippier with multiple confrontations after the whistle.
After Jones' interception, the Yellow Jackets (3-4, 1-3) were able to knot the score up at seven as Marshall found wideout Malachi Carter down the right sideline for a 32-yard pass to tie the game up at seven before halftime.
On Jackson’s ensuing 28-yard kickoff return, Jackson kept moving after taking a few initial hits, but the action was far away from the ball carrier. Ahead of the play, backup Blue Devil safety Brandon Feamster and starting linebacker Victor Alexander kept going after the whistle, with the Yellow Jackets’ Alexander ejected after throwing a series of punches at Feamster.
But once the game settled down, Duke was able to pull away and secure its first conference victory of the season.
“[The 21-point swing] was phenomenal. When you get turnover, touchdown, turnover, touchdown, when there were 30 seconds left and we scored two touchdowns in the end of the third, it was phenomenal,” redshirt junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “That’s just an unbelievable feeling when you can keep getting turnovers.”
Next week, the Blue Devils will get their first crack at bowl eligibility when they host Virginia Saturday afternoon.