Jackets defeat Duke in an overtime thriller

Redshirt freshman wideout Leo Blackburn hauls in his first career Tech touchdown. Blackburn made his first start as a Jacket and was Tech’s second leading receiver on the day. // Photo by Tuna Ergan Student Publications

After defeating No. 24 Pitt, Brent Key and the entire Tech football program wanted to prove that the win was no fluke. The Jackets faced off against the Duke Blue Devils this past Saturday in hopes of making it two out of two for Key. The Jackets were able to scrape out a win in overtime with a final score of 23-20 despite some questionable flags making the game much closer than it should have been.

Tech won the opening toss and elected to receive in hopes of a quick offensive start to set the tone. After a big 15-yard gain from the Jackets, the drive fizzled out at midfield where Tech was forced to punt. Duke responded with a short offensive drive of their own, but their drive faltered after a sack by junior defensive lineman Sylvain Yondjouen.

The next Tech drive started from their own 25, but after some big plays from sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims through the air and on the ground, they marched deep into Duke territory with redshirt junior running back Dontae Smith running the ball into the red zone. The drive eventually ended with a field goal, putting the Jackets up 3-0. After a strong offensive drive, the Tech defense held firm, forcing Duke to relinquish possession and punt again.

After an excellent punt from the Blue Devils, the Jackets started from their own 6-yard line. Sims, however, was able to once again bail out the offense with a quarterback keeper, giving Tech more breathing room. With that extra space, the Jackets were able to put together two massive passing plays to continue moving the ball into Duke territory. The Jackets would then go on to score thanks to an 18-yard pass from Sims to sophomore wide receiver Nate McCollum, extending the lead to 10-0. 

The Blue Devils would then go on to have their best drive of the half on the back of quarterback Riley Leonard’s legs, eventually completing a 45-yard field goal to make the score 10-3. The rest of the half consisted of a punt by Tech and Duke running out the clock. At the half, the score was 10-3 in Tech’s favor.

The first half performance by Tech was excellent, with the Jackets gaining 92 yards through the air and 132 on the ground. The Jacket defense held Duke to just 133 total yards, making the Blue Devils work to move the ball.

The Tech defense continued exactly where they left off, forcing Duke into a quick three and out. The offense then marched down the field, led by a big gain from senior running back Hassan Hall on the ground. The drive was capped off with a 37-yard pass to redshirt freshman wideout Leo Blackburn, making the score 17-3 and marking Blackburn’s first score at Tech.

The Tech defense continued to bend but never broke. The Blue Devils drove down inside the Tech 10-yard line, but the defense held strong with an interception by redshirt sophomore defensive back K.J. Wallace. The offense was unable to capitalize on the strong defensive hold, only mustering 10 yards and then being forced to punt. Duke then marched down the field once again, but the Jackets defense was able to hold the Blue Devils to a field goal, cutting the lead to 11.

After the Duke field goal, the Jackets immediately responded with a field goal of their own after a long drive. The next drive for each team ended with a punt after neither offense could move the ball, but the Tech punt was returned for a touchdown by Sahmir Hagans, cutting the Jacket advantage to 20-13. 

With the momentum firmly in Duke’s favor, the Tech offense faltered after one first down, forcing the Jackets to punt right into a 40-yard return for the Blue Devils. The Blue Devils offense was unable to capitalize on their excellent field position, eventually turning the ball over on downs. Tech was again unable to move the ball on offense, but they did force Duke to use all of their timeouts.

Duke then started the final drive of regulation, needing to travel 80 yards in less than three minutes just to tie the game. The final Duke drive was boosted by multiple contentious penalties resulting in more yardage than Duke actually managed. The drive was capped off by a final pass interference penalty moving Duke inside the five-yard line. The Blue Devils scored with eight seconds remaining to make the score 20-20, forcing overtime.

Overtime began with Duke winning the coin toss and electing to start on defense as chants of disapproval with the officiating of the game echoed through the stadium. On the very first play of overtime, Sims got injured after a hit by the Duke defense, forcing redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Gibson to step in. Gibson would make a five-yard completion to set Tech up for a field goal, which was promptly converted to make the score 23-20. Duke then started their possession with a five-yard gain but an offensive pass interference call made it fourth down and 20, forcing a 52-yard field goal that Duke’s kicker missed wide left, ending the game for good.

The Jackets celebrated a hardfought win that moved their record to 3-3 on the season and 2-1 in ACC play, good for second in the Coastal division. 

Against Duke, the offense moved the ball efficiently with 412 total yards and two touchdowns through the air. Tech’s defense held the Duke offense to its fewest yards all season, limiting them to just 278 yards and snagging an interception for the fifth game in a row, helping the team maintain its healthy turnover margin.

Looking to continue their two game winning streak, Tech plays the University of Virginia Cavaliers (2-4, 0-3 ACC) on Oct. 20 in Bobby Dodd stadium. Coach Key will be looking to lead the team to three consecutive wins for the program’s first time since 2018 and earn the team’s first winning record since 2020’s 1-0.