Nov. 14, 2009
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – Orwin Smith bobbled the kickoff, recovered just in time to find a seam and took off toward the goal line.
Just like that, No. 7 Georgia Tech was off to the races – and headed straight for the ACC title game.
The Yellow Jackets clinched the Coastal Division and a spot in the league championship by routing Duke 49-10 on Saturday behind 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Jonathan Dwyer and another big day from Josh Nesbitt.
Smith’s 83-yard kickoff return sparked slow-starting Georgia Tech (10-1, 7-1). Duke’s Jordon Byas tracked him down from behind at the 2, but none of the Yellow Jackets’ pursuers can catch them in the standings.
“We’ve been talking about elimination every week, and we finally got everybody eliminated on our side,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We’re division champs (but) that wasn’t the goal. We’re still playing for the goal.”
Nesbitt accounted for three scores, finishing 6 of 10 for 195 yards with touchdown passes covering 32 yards to Stephen Hill and 75 yards to Demaryius Thomas and a 2-yard scoring run. Dwyer, the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, had TD runs of 3 and 13 yards in his fourth consecutive 100-yard game.
Georgia Tech scored on five of six possessions to break open the game, outgained Duke 519-281, rolled up 306 yards rushing and won its eighth straight while sewing up the Coastal for the second time in four years. Now, after a week off and a visit from instate rival Georgia, it’s on to Tampa, Fla., to face the Atlantic champion with a trip to the Orange Bowl on the line.
As the final minutes ticked off the clock, some Tech fans near the goal line unfurled a banner that read, “Tampa Bound.”
Thaddeus Lewis was 22 for 35 for 212 yards with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Re’quan Boyette and an interception in garbage time. He also broke Ben Bennett’s 26-year-old school record with his 826th career completion.
But the Blue Devils had minus-1 yard rushing through three quarters and finished with 25. Duke (5-5, 3-3) has lost two straight, and must beat No. 12 Miami and Wake Forest to qualify for its first bowl since 1994.
“We have to get these guys together and rally,” Lewis said. “It’s not over. We still have two games left, and we have a great opportunity ahead of us. We obviously have to have a short-term memory and keep moving.”
Yet for a while, the Blue Devils kept this one interesting, taking a 10-0 lead in the final minute of the first quarter before Smith’s big special-teams play.
He muffed the ensuing kickoff at about the 15, started out toward the hash marks and cut back down the right sideline before he was dragged down deep in Duke territory.
“Once we saw the big play, we just kept following that, using that as momentum for us,” Dwyer said.
Nesbitt powered in on the next play, Marcus Wright took an option pitch 16 yards for a TD and Dwyer scored from 3 yards out to make it 21-10. Nesbitt’s scoring strike to Hill with 32 seconds left made it an 18-point game at the break and sent Duke to its 39th straight loss to a nationally ranked opponent.
That looked like much less of a certainty early on, because Lewis and the Blue Devils couldn’t have been much better during their opening drive.
The fourth-year starter was 5 for 5 for 54 yards, and the 20-yard pass he dropped over Boyette’s shoulder put Duke up 7-0 roughly 4 minutes in.
“It was evident the way we started the game (that) we were ready to play,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
Smith’s game-changing return came moments after a special-teams foul-up gave the Blue Devils a short field and a 10-point lead. Will Snyderwine’s 31-yard field goal came after the Yellow Jackets botched a punt snap – but ultimately, that was one of Tech’s final miscues of the day.
“It opened our eyes,” Dwyer said, adding that the mentality was: “We’ve got to play now. Just go out there and just play our game, not think too much, not try to do over-the-top things.”