ATLANTA (AP) — Strike another long losing streak off Duke’s record.
Anthony Boone threw for 123 yards and a touchdown, Josh Sneed rushed for 102 yards and a score, and the Blue Devils snapped a 10-year skid against Georgia Tech by knocking off the No. 22 Yellow Jackets 31-25 Saturday.
Backup quarterback Thomas Sirk had a couple of short TD runs for the Blue Devils (5-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who won in Atlanta for the first time since 1994 and showed they aren’t going to give up their Coastal Division title without a fight.
“We haven’t won here in so many years,” Duke’s Deondre Singleton said. “We kept a chip on our shoulders.”
Duke defeated its biggest rival, North Carolina, the past two years after dropping 21 of the previous 22 meetings.
Now, the Blue Devils have taken care of a different thorn in their side.
“It felt good, no question,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “We haven’t been successful at all (against Georgia Tech) for the most part.”
With a week off to get ready for the triple-option offense, Duke capitalized on three huge second-half turnovers by the Yellow Jackets (5-1, 2-1).
Justin Thomas threw a pair of interceptions — one deep in Duke territory — and Zach Laskey fumbled. The sloppy performance was totally unexpected from a team that was leading the ACC with a plus-5 turnover margin.
“Three turnovers is atrocious,” Laskey said.
With Duke up 14-12, the second-half kickoff was delayed 1 hour, 17 minutes by thunderstorms moving through downtown Atlanta.
When play finally resumed, the Blue Devils were clearly the better-prepared team.
“I’m really proud of our team and staff over the open date,” Cutcliffe said. “I thought we utilized our time well.”
Laskey fumbled on the opening possession after halftime, with Duke’s Jeremy Cash falling on it at the Georgia Tech 46. The Blue Devils needed nine plays to reach the end zone, converting a pair of third downs before Snead took it in with a 4-yard run.
Jamal Golden returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards, but the Yellow Jackets managed only one first down before the drive stalled. Harrison Butker was wide right on a 52-yard field goal attempt.
Duke drove down the field again before settling for Ross Martin’s 34-yard field goal, pushing the lead to 24-12.
That’s when the Blue Devils defense came up with the biggest play of the game. With Georgia Tech at the Duke 10 after DeAndre Smelter went 21 yards on a reverse, Thomas let go of a terrible pass — straight to Duke freshman linebacker Zavier Carmichael.
Thomas had another pick on a desperation sling along the sideline that went right to Cash, setting up Sirk’s 1-yard plunge that made it 31-12 with 8:18 remaining.
Thomas, who had been one of Georgia Tech’s offensive stars this season, did not take another snap. Tim Byerly finished up at quarterback and had a couple of touchdown runs that merely made things interesting at the end.
Duke recovered a pair of onside kicks to preserve the victory, which will likely make Georgia Tech’s first appearance in the national rankings since 2011 a short one.
“Those guys just wanted it more than us,” Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Neely said. “They knew what was at stake. We knew what was at stake. I give credit where credit is due.”
Coach Paul Johnson said Thomas injured an ankle late in the first half, but tried to play through it.
He wound up with his worst performance of the season despite rushing for 119 yards.
“I could tell it was bothering him,” Johnson said.
It was a grim day all around for the Yellow Jackets, one of just 10 unbeaten FBS teams coming into the day. They simply made too many huge mistakes to beat an efficient, turnover-free Duke team.
After forcing the Blue Devils to punt on their second possession of the game, Georgia Tech was called for two penalties on the return and Duke kept the ball.
Then, safety Corey Griffin was ejected from the game for targeting Shaun Wilson on a 29-yard completion, delivering a helmet-to-helmet hit against the defenseless player. Boone capped off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Max McCaffrey.
Duke’s next touchdown came after a much-longer reception by McCaffrey, this one after he somehow got behind the Georgia Tech defense on third-and-26. The 30-yard play set up Sirk’s first touchdown from 3 yards.
Georgia Tech settled for a pair of short field goals by Butker before reaching the end zone with 40 seconds left in the half on Laskey’s 4-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion failed, leaving Duke with a halftime lead it would not relinquish.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.