Duke rally falls short against Georgia Tech

Published 8:58 pm Saturday, November 19, 2011

DURHAM — Duke’s home finale turned out like so many games before it.
The Blue Devils played hard — but, ultimately, just well enough to lose another close one.
Sean Renfree matched a career high with four touchdown passes, but his interception in the final minute thwarted Duke’s final drive in a 38-31 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday.
“It has been that type of season for us where we shoot ourselves in the foot,” receiver Donovan Varner said. “A play here and a play there that we don’t quite make.”
Duke lost four of its seven home games by a total 14 points, and once again the Blue Devils took a bowl-bound team to the wire. Renfree’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Helfet — his second scoring pass to the tight end — pulled Duke within seven points with 6:37 left.
Duke forced a fumble from Charles Perkins and took over at its 34 with 3:44 left.
Renfree threw deep down the sideline for Helfet, and Jamea Thomas picked him off with 2:20 left. Georgia Tech then ran out the clock to seal their eighth straight win in the series.
Renfree finished 26 of 42 for 250 yards with his other touchdown passes covering 15 yards to Conner Vernon, 12 yards to Varner and 3 yards to Helfet. Duke (3-8, 1-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost its sixth straight, a disappointing total that includes home losses by two points to Richmond, one point to Wake Forest, four points to Virginia Tech and, now, by a touchdown to the Yellow Jackets.
“We don’t have moral victories,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “But it’s important that you play about as well as you can play. What I saw out there on the field and on the sideline … That was totally a team effort of focus and competitiveness and a valiant effort. It’s a great statement and a legacy that our seniors have left us here. We’ve brought it every time we’ve come to play.”
Tevin Washington accounted for 321 total yards and had a pivotal 39-yard touchdown run that helped the Yellow Jackets hold on for the win. He rushed for 136 yards and added 185 through the air on 6-of-13 passing for Georgia Tech (8-3, 5-3).
The Yellow Jackets rolled up 549 total yards, scored on four straight possessions and held off Duke’s late charge to win for just the second time in 1½ months and clinch their third eight-win season in four years under coach Paul Johnson.
“At times, it wasn’t always perfect,” Washington said. “This wasn’t always good at times. But the end result, we finished out strong, we got the win, we got the results we came here for.”
Washington showed once again just how capable he is of coming up with big plays both with his feet and his arm. He broke a pair of tackles during his long scoring run, which came 3 minutes after Duke had pulled within 31-24. Four of his completions covered at least 29 yards.
“I just tried to keep my feet moving,” Washington said. “A couple of guys tried to wrap me up, but nobody really took me to the ground.”
David Sims had scoring runs of 4 yards and 1 yard, while Roddy Jones and Embry Peeples had 1-yard touchdown runs for the Yellow Jackets, who entered having lost three of four — including an 11-point loss to Virginia Tech that took them out of the Coastal Division race.
Georgia Tech looked to have taken control of this one by scoring on its final four possessions of the first half. None of those drives took longer than 5½ minutes.
Sims powered in from 4 yards out to tie it at 7. One series later, Washington hit Tyler Melton for 31 yards and raced 21 yards to set up Jones’ short scoring run that put the Yellow Jackets ahead to stay.
Washington’s 46-yard pass to Embry Peeples then set up Sims’ second TD run to make it 21-7 barely 3 minutes into the second quarter. After Duke pulled within a touchdown, Washington lofted a 56-yard pass to Stephen Hill that set up Peeples’ TD on the final play of the half to make it 28-14.
“After the first couple of possessions, it kind of became tough to get a stop,” Johnson said.
Duke wasted no time jumping out to a 7-0 lead, with Varner taking a sweep 39 yards through the Georgia Tech defense to the 20. Three plays later, Renfree found Vernon over the middle for the receiver’s sixth TD this season. His touchdown pass to Varner on fourth-and-3 pulled the Blue Devils to 21-14 with 5:24 left before halftime.