DURHAM, N.C. - Led by quarterback Sean Renfree's four touchdown passes, Duke totaled 351 yards of offense and pulled within seven late in the fourth quarter, but the Blue Devils could not slow a potent Yellow Jacket attack as Georgia Tech hung on for a 38-31 victory Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium.
Renfree's four touchdowns tied a career-high as the Duke signal caller completed 26-of-42 passes for 250 yards on the afternoon. Conner Vernon led all receivers with nine catches for 92 yards, while Donovan Varner totaled 89 yards, including a career-long 39-yard run on Duke's first play from scrimmage. In addition, Varner caught five passes, giving the Miami, Fla., native a Duke record 36 consecutive games with at least one reception.
Yellow Jacket quarterback Tevin Washington ran for 136 yards and a touchdown in addition to completing six passes for another 185 as Georgia Tech accumulated 549 yards of offense in the contest. Backs David Sims and Embry Peeples combined for 130 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Tech ground attack.
Duke's defense came out strong against the Yellow Jackets, forcing a Georgia Tech punt after just three plays on its first possession to set up the Blue Devils' offense. Three plays after Varner's 39-yard run, Renfree connected with Vernon for a 15-yard strike to put the Blue Devils up 7-0 just over three minutes into the game.
Georgia Tech tied the score six minutes later, punching the ball in from four yards out on a carry by Sims following an eight-play drive. Duke was forced to punt on its next possession, and the Yellow Jackets utilized five plays to take a 14-7 lead with 3:22 left in the first quarter. A second touchdown run, this time by back Roddy Jones from one yard out, capped the 59-yard drive.
The Yellow Jackets' advantage grew to 14 points early in the second quarter. Despite starting at its own nine-yard line, Georgia Tech needed eight plays to cover the 91 yards for its third touchdown of the game. Washington completed a 46-yard pass to Peeples to move into Duke territory, and Sims dove into the end zone six plays later for the score.
Duke put together its longest drive of the afternoon to cut Georgia Tech's lead back to seven late in the second quarter. Renfree completed consecutive first down passes to Vernon and tight end Cooper Helfet, who finished with six catches for 45 yards and a pair of touchdowns, to move into the red zone. Facing fourth-and-three at the Tech 11, Renfree hit Varner for the 12-yard touchdown pass to complete the drive.
With 5:21 remaining in the half, Georgia Tech regained possession and the Duke defense was unable to keep the Yellow Jackets out of end zone before the half concluded. Peeples' one-yard run completed the 94-yard drive and Georgia Tech took a 28-14 lead into the intermission.
Duke added a 35-yard Will Snyderwine field goal to start the second half, cutting the deficit to 11, but the Blue Devils could not capitalize on a Georgia Tech fumble, recovered by Sydney Sarmiento at the Yellow Jacket 44, and were forced to punt.
Georgia Tech's next possession resulted in 25-yard field goal as the Duke defense pressured Washington into an incomplete pass on third-and-six at the Duke eight.
Trailing 31-17 with under two minutes to play in the third quarter, the Blue Devils began a drive that lasted 11 plays and covered 73 yards. A pair of Yellow Jacket penalties set Duke up at the Tech 11 yard line, which resulted in a Renfree completion to Helfet on fourth-and-one for the touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets added their fifth and final touchdown on Georgia Tech's next possession to give the visiting team a 38-24 lead with 9:31 left to play. Undaunted, Duke mounted a 67-yard drive, ignited by a 41-yard reception from receiver Brandon Braxton and capped by Helfet's second touchdown grab of the day, this time from 10 yards out.
With under seven minutes to play, Duke's defense needed a stop and the Blue Devils came up with a second Georgia Tech turnover. Nose guard Charlie Hatcher recovered the Yellow Jacket fumble at the Duke 34 to give the Blue Devils the ball with 3:44 remaining.
However, Duke's final possession was plagued by penalties as the Blue Devils faced 2nd-and-25 in their own territory. Georgia Tech was able to pick off the ensuing pass to ensure a victory for the Yellow Jackets.
Safety Walt Canty led the Duke defense with 12 tackles, followed closely by linebacker David Helton's nine tackles.
The Blue Devils will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., next Saturday, Nov. 26 to take on North Carolina in a 3:30 p.m. match-up.