Beat up by injuries on both sides of the ball, Duke got a spark from its special teams and a gutsy drive in the final seconds of regulation before falling short in overtime Saturday.
After tying the score in the final seconds of regulation, Duke saw Charlie Ham’s 52-yard field-goal attempt fall short and to the left in overtime, allowing Georgia Tech to beat the Blue Devils, 23-20, at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Duke (4-2, 1-1 ACC) rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter, tying the score with eight seconds left in regulation on Riley Leonard’s touchdown pass to Nicky Dalmolin.
Georgia Tech scored on a 37-yard Gavin Stewart field goal on its first possession of overtime.
On their overtime possession, the Blue Devils appeared to move inside the Georgia Tech 10 when Leonard completed a pass to Sahmir Hagans on third-and-4 from the 19. But an offensive pass interference penalty on wide receiver Jontavis Robertson pushed Duke back to the 34.
Asked what he saw on the penalty or what the officials told him, Duke coach Mike Elko demurred.
“Yeah, I’m gonna wait and watch the film on that one,” Elko said.
After an incomplete pass, Ham’s 52-yard field-goal try was off target.
Trailing 20-6 midway through the fourth quarter, Duke finally found the end zone when Hagans returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown with 5:55 to play.
The Blue Devils defense, despite missing starting linebacker Shaka Heyward following a targeting ejection in the first half, stopped Georgia Tech on its final two possessions of regulation.
After the second one, Leonard engineered an 80-yard touchdown drive with no timeouts, connecting with Dalmolin to tie the score. Duke was helped on that late touchdown drive by three Georgia Tech penalties — roughing the passer, personal foul for hands to the face and a pass interference.
“Through it all, you know, we got the ball with two minutes left and no timeouts and put the ball down the field and gave ourselves a chance to win the game in overtime,” Elko said. “I love the fight.”
The late rally gave Duke a chance on a day its offense wasn’t at its best as it was beaten up with injuries.
Duke started the game without its leading rusher, running back Jaylen Coleman (lower-body injury). Along the way, the Blue Devils lost two more starting players on offense in starting left guard Maurice McIntyre (lower body) and wide receiver Jalon Calhoun (upper body). Another running back, Jordan Waters, was injured and left the game in the fourth quarter.
With those three starters unavailable, Duke’s offense turned in its lowest output of the season. The Blue Devils managed a season-low 278 total yards. Duke entered the game averaging 35 points and 444.2 yards of offense per game.
Leonard completed 20 of 42 passes for a measly 136 yards. He was sacked three times, and Georgia Tech was credited with five quarterback hurries. Leonard also threw an interception inside the Yellow Jackets’ 10.
“I thought he battled,” Elko said of Leonard. “He didn’t have his best game for sure. We didn’t do the best job protecting him for sure. We didn’t put him in the best situations to be successful today.”
Without Coleman, and with Waters leaving the game with an injury in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils gained only 142 rushing yards. The Blue Devils converted just 6 of 17 third downs.
That made the task of beating the Yellow Jackets (3-3, 2-1 ACC), who are playing under an interim head coach, too difficult for Duke.
Instead, Georgia Tech won its second consecutive game with Brent Key coaching them following Geoff Collins’ firing.
Quarterback Jeff Sims paced Georgia Tech’s offense. In his third season as a starter, Sims fired a pair of touchdown passes to stake his team to a 17-3 lead in the third quarter.
Sims completed 23 of 34 passes for 227 yards. He also rushed 17 times for 95 yards as Georgia Tech ran for 180 yards before being injured on Georgia Tech’s first play of overtime.
For just the second time in six games this season, Duke fell behind in the first half. Georgia Tech took a 3-0 lead on Stewart’s 22-yard field goal in the first quarter and pushed its lead to 10-0 when Sims fired an 18-yard touchdown pass to Nate McCollum in the second quarter.
Duke added a Ham field goal, from 45 yards out with 2:03 left in the second quarter, to trail 10-3 at halftime.
The score, though, was only part of the bad news, as McIntyre and Calhoun didn’t make it to halftime.
The situation grew worse late in the first half when Heyward was ejected on Georgia Tech’s final possession of the first half. Heyward hit Sims high as the Yellow Jackets quarterback started his slide on a running play. The officials’ replay review confirmed the Duke linebacker targeted Sims with a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Duke was already playing without linebacker Tre Freeman, who started last week’s 38-17 win over Virginia, due to a lower-body injury. Freeman is expected to miss multiple games.
A lower-body injury has limited another Duke linebacker, Dorian Mausi, for the past month. He missed two of the last four games and didn’t start at Georgia Tech. But he did play in a reserve role.
This story was originally published October 8, 2022 7:39 PM.