Duke jumps out to early lead and holds off Georgia Tech for ACC win No. 2

Duke needed to come from behind this week, but it wasn’t a 23-point second-half deficit.

The Blue Devils trailed Georgia Tech by seven, briefly, but once they got rolling, Duke never looked back, defeating the Yellow Jackets 41-23 on a picture-perfect day at Wallace Wade Stadium.

“Definitely really important for us to get back on track and get a big ACC win at home,” Blue Devils’ quarterback Quentin Harris said. “Really proud with the outcome today, thought we played a great game.”

Last week against Pittsburgh, Duke was down by 23 before taking a late lead. The Panthers retook the lead and escaped with a 33-30 win. This time around, the Blue Devils didn’t mess around, taking a 38-14 lead into the locker room at halftime after outscoring Georgia Tech 28-7 in the second quarter.

The 38 points in the first half were a season-high for Duke.

“I think we just really believed in our game plan,” Harris said when asked what was the key to the big start. “We were executing really well. The linemen did a good job clearing holes for the backs. There were a lot of running lanes out there and the guys made some great plays when they needed to.”

The Blue Devils rushed for 197 yards, led by Mateo Durant with 74 yards rushing and Deon Jackson with 69. Harris added 44 rushing in a balanced ground attack.

The Yellow Jackets scored on their opening drive, a 19-yard pass from James Graham to Jerry Howard, but the Blue Devils closed the quarter on a 10-0 run. That momentum continued into the second quarter, as Duke scored 28 unanswered to take a 31-point lead.

After kicking a 33-yard field goal to get on the board, the Blue Devils scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions.. Four of those touchdowns came on the ground and the special teams got in on the scoring act to close out the quarter. Xander Gagnon blocked a Georgia Tech punt and Javon Jackson returned the ball 14-yards for the score, putting Duke ahead 38-7.

Duke’s Xander Gagnon (41) blocks a punt by Georgia Tech’s Pressley Harvin III (27) in the second quarter on Saturday October 12, 2019 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Georgia Tech scored one more time before the half, but the Blue Devils took a double-digit lead into the locker room for the fourth time this year. The 24-point margin at the break was the second biggest halftime lead Duke has had this season. The Blue Devils led Middle Tennessee State by 28 on their way to a 41-18 win Sept. 14.

But this game, against an ACC opponent, was even more impressive. Even though Georgia Tech won the second half, the Blue Devils created enough cushion that there was room for error. Duke picked up four sacks in the win, pinning their ears back and getting after Graham.

“Everybody was just getting in there,” defensive end Chris Rumph II said. “That was the plan. Offense put us in a great position where we could play even faster, take a couple of shots if we wanted. We want to give credit to the offense for letting us play looser than we usually do.”

First down

Duke senior quarterback Quentin Harris took the top off the Georgia Tech defense a few times in the first half. Harris completed two passes for 40 yards or more, making the Yellow Jackets’ defense respect the long ball. He hit a 42-yard pass to Jalon Calhoun in the first quarter, then connected on a 41-yard strike to to Darrell Harding, Jr. in the second quarter. This made the Georgia Tech secondary play back and created more room for the running game.

Duke’s Jalon Calhoun (5) pulls in a 42-yard pass from quarterback Quentin Harris (18) ahead of Georgia Tech’s Tariq Carpenter (2) in the first quarter on Saturday October 12, 2019 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com


Georgia Tech gained 75 yards on their opening drive. The Blue Devils’ defense held the Yellow Jackets to 93 yards on 24 plays the rest of the half.


Hard to nitpick since Duke played so well most of the game, but the Blue Devils didn’t score on their opening drive of the second half, killing their scoring momentum. Duke didn’t punt at all in the first half.


In a case of role reversal, it was the Blue Devils, not the Yellow Jackets, who used the triple-option to move the ball. Under former coach Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech was strictly a triple-option team. First-year head coach Geoff Collins brought in a new system, but fans of the throwback offense still saw it Saturday. Duke has used it sparingly this season, and went with the triple-option three times in the first half. Each time resulted in a touchdown for the Blue Devils.

Freshman Eli Pancol scored on a three-yard run in the first quarter, Deon Jackson scored from one-yard out in the second and Harris scored from one with 6:34 remaining in the second quarter.

Key numbers

28: Duke scored 28 points in the second, the most points they’ve scored in a quarter this season. The second quarter has been good to the Blue Devils all season. In their four wins, Duke has combined for 87 points in the second quarter, averaging 21.7 points in the frame.

3: Duke won its third straight game over the Yellow Jackets and have now won five out of the last six meetings.

3.0: Number of sacks for Blue Devils defensive end Vic Dimukeje. The junior came into the game with just 2.0 sacks this season.

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.