Nov. 18, 2006
ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia Tech’s players couldn’t wait to begin looking ahead to the coming weeks, with three games that will define the Yellow Jackets’ season.
Chan Gailey gave them a head start.
Gailey pulled his starters after the first half of Saturday’s lopsided 49-21 win over Duke as No. 18 Georgia Tech gained momentum for its Atlantic Coast Conference championship drive.
The starters watched the second half as their thoughts moved ahead to next week’s attempt to end a five-year losing streak to state rival Georgia, followed by the Dec. 2 ACC championship game in Jacksonville and then a bowl trip.
“This is what we worked so hard in the summer for, to finish at the end,” said Choice, who rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown. “These next three games can be some of the biggest games in Georgia Tech history.”
Tech clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division title with last week’s 7-0 win at North Carolina, but that unimpressive offensive effort led to more criticisms than compliments. The offense responded against Duke: Ball threw three touchdown passes, including two to Johnson, in the second quarter.
Backup quarterback Taylor Bennett added two touchdown passes to Greg Smith in the third quarter as Georgia Tech gained 462 yards and scored its most points since beating Syracuse 51-14 in the 2004 Champs Sports Bowl.
The combined five touchdown passes tied a school record.
“It was a great day,” Gailey said. “I thought our guys went out there and learned from last week that you can’t just go out and play, you have to play your best.”
After the game, talk in the Tech locker room quickly moved from Duke to Georgia and the ACC championship game.
“I believe they’ve had that in mind for about the last month, and I believe they know exactly what’s at stake and they’re excited about getting it done,” Gailey said.
Tech (9-2, 7-1) held Duke to 41 yards rushing on 26 carries. The Blue Devils committed four turnovers.
Duke (0-11, 0-7) must beat North Carolina next week to avoid its first winless season since 2001. Duke has the nation’s longest losing streak at 19 games, has lost 23 consecutive ACC games and 29 straight conference road games.
Ball, a senior playing in his final home game, had his first pass picked off by John Talley, who leads the ACC with seven interceptions. It gave Duke the ball on Tech’s 22. The Blue Devils couldn’t take advantage; Raphael Chesnut dropped a would-be touchdown pass before Joe Surgan’s 27-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right.
“We had a chance to gain some momentum there after getting a takeaway on the very first play,” said Duke coach Ted Roof. “We had a guy that was getting ready to score a touchdown and, again, a missed opportunity. We’ve got to find a way to make those plays.”
Tech seized the opening.
Choice gained 16 and 46 yards on his first two runs before scoring from the 3 for a 7-0 lead.
In the key matchup of the game, Duke’s Talley was assigned to cover Johnson, and Johnson won most of the second-quarter matchups.
Johnson beat Talley for a 46-yard reception from Ball late in the first quarter. The bomb set up Johnson’s 10-yard scoring catch – again against Talley – on the first play of the second quarter for a 14-0 lead.
Ball’s second TD pass was deflected by Duke cornerback Deonto McCormick and caught by James Johnson in the end zone.
Calvin Johnson’s second TD catch came after Blue Devils quarterback Thaddeus Lewis lost a fumble at their own 26. Johnson outjumped Talley to make a 19-yard catch for a 28-0 lead.
“Calvin certainly made a couple of great plays,” Roof said. “He just went up and got them when only one person could catch it.”
Duke scored the first TD allowed by Tech’s defense in three games on Tielor Robinson’s 13-yard pass from Lewis late in the half.
Tech freshman Jamaal Evans added a 21-yard TD run in the fourth quarter and finished with 89 yards rushing.
Gailey normally spends Sunday’s reviewing game film. That routine may change this week.
“We’ll probably ditch this game pretty early tomorrow,” he said, “and get right on to the Georgia game.”