Duke did it the hard way, but the Blue Devils achieved their season-long goal of returning to a bowl game.
The Blue Devils, who suffered through a six-game losing streak this season, faced a double-digit deficit for the second week in a row on Saturday at Wake Forest.
Just like last week against Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils showed grit and determination to overcome and win.
Duke’s defense held Wake Forest out of the end zone in the second half and fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Daniel Jones and Brittain Brown lifted the Blue Devils to a 31-23 win at BB&T Field.
The win brings Duke (6-6, 3-5 ACC) back to the .500 mark and, more importantly, gives the Blue Devils the six wins needed to ensure a bowl game. After going 18 years between bowl appearances, Duke will play in the postseason for the fifth time in the last six years.
Jones completed 25 of 44 passes for 346 yards and a touchdown. Duke survived his three interceptions.
Duke’s defense limited Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford to 16-of-33 passing for 191 yards and intercepted him twice. Mark Gilbert’s interception with 1:32 to play sealed the Blue Devils’ win.
Duke entered the fourth quarter trailing 23-17 and faced a fourth-and-6 play from the Wake 37. Facing a fierce Wake Forest pass rush, Jones unloaded the ball just in time. Chris Taylor caught the pass at the 30 and ran to the 1 for a 36-yard pass play.
Jones scored on a 1-yard plunge on the next play giving Duke its first lead of the day at 24-23 with 13:53 to play.
Wake Forest (7-5, 4-4) failed to get a first down on its next drive, and Duke mounted another strong drive to extend its lead.
Jones completed three key passes on the drive, two on third downs. He hooked up with Helm for 33 yards on third-and-10, 13 yards to Davis Koppenhaver on third-and-10.
Jones scrambled 4 yards to the Wake Forest 16 on a fourth-and-2 play.
With 8:33 left, Brown scored on a 4-yard touchdown run giving Duke a 31-23 lead.
Leading 17-10 at halftime, Wake Forest extended its lead to 20-10 on a Mike Weaver 41-yard field goal.
Duke responded with a solid drive, covering 75 yards on six plays. Jones’ 41-yard pass to T.J. Rahming moved Duke to the Wake 34, and Jones’ 16-yard run a play later gave Duke a first down at the Wake 14.
After a running play and a Wake penalty, Jones fired a 6-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Noah Gray to cut Wake’s lead to 20-17.
Weaver’s third field goal of the game, from 43 yards out, gave the Deacons a 23-17 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Duke turned the ball over twice in the first half, both on Jones interceptions, as Wake Forest built a 17-10 halftime lead.
Duke’s offense ran into trouble on its first drive when Jones’ third-down pass bounced off Chris Taylor’s hands and was intercepted by Wake’s Justin Strnad.
Taking over the ball at the Duke 28, Wake needed just four plays to take the lead. Wolford’s 2-yard pass to Tabari Hines gave the Deacons a 7-0 lead with 12:04 to play in the first quarter.
After Wake punter Dom Maggio pinned Duke at its 1, the Blue Devils failed to get a first down and punted. The Deacons took over at the Duke 29 and converted its strong field position into a 38-yard Weaver field goal for a 10-0 lead.
The Blue Devils got on the board before the first quarter ended as Jones engineered a drive that reached the Wake Forest 20. Jones ran for 13 yards on the drive’s second play and later completed passes of 11 yards to Rahming and 19 to Helm.
Austin Parker kicked a 38-yard field goal leaving Wake with a 10-3 lead.
The Deacons extended their lead to 17-3 with 6:49 left until halftime when Wolford completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Alex Bachman.
Jones, though, kept Duke in the game with an 82-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter. Jones completed passes covering 10 yards to Rahming and 14 to Aaron Young.
But his biggest pass was on third down. Jones eluded a fierce Wake Forest rush, rolled left and lofted a pass to running back Brown, who caught the ball and ran to the Wake 18 for a 35-yard gain.
On the next play, Jones fired an 18-yard touchdown pass to Helm leaving Wake Forest with a 17-10 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Duke’s Koby Quansah stripped the ball from Wake Forest returner Chuck Wade and recovered the fumble at the Wake 19.
Looking to tie the score, Jones dropped back to pass on the first play. But the pass was tipped at the line by Wake’s Grant Dawson. The ball popped up in the air, and Jones leaped to catch it. But as he was falling to the ground the officials ruled he lost control of the ball. Wake’s Demetrius Kemp snagged it out of the air for an interception.
Replay review confirmed the call on the field and Duke lost a great scoring chance.