ATLANTA — There will be a bowl game for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets may even play for the ACC championship.
Those are unlikely developments for a team that entered November with a losing record.
Tevin Washington passed for three touchdowns and ran for another score to lead Georgia Tech to a 42-24 win over Duke on Saturday, preserving the Yellow Jackets’ hopes of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Georgia Tech (6-5, 5-3 ACC) has won three straight games to become bowl-eligible for the 16th consecutive season. The Yellow Jackets moved one-half game ahead of Miami in the Coastal Division. Miami ends its conference schedule next week against Duke.
Miami, 4-3 in the ACC, would win a tie-breaker with Georgia Tech, thanks to its 42-36 overtime win over the Yellow Jackets on Sept. 22, if each team finishes 5-3 in the league.
Miami, under NCAA investigation, could self-impose its second-straight bowl ban. That decision would send Georgia Tech to the Dec. 1 ACC championship game against Florida State.
”All I know is that the worst we can do is tie for first in the Coastal Division,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who said ”I have no idea” what Miami will decide.
”After the way the season started and everybody kind of wrote it off, I’m proud of these guys for hanging in there and fighting,” he said.
Duke (6-5, 3-4) already clinched its first bowl berth since 1994.
Washington threw two scoring passes to Robert Godhigh and one to Zach Laskey.
Duke receiver Conner Vernon became the ACC’s all-time leader in yards receiving, passing former Florida State star Peter Warrick’s record of 3,517 yards. Vernon, who began the game 35 yards behind Warrick’s mark, had five catches for 38 yards.
On the first play of the game, Vernon caught a 2-yard pass from Sean Renfree, giving him receptions in 46 consecutive games, setting another ACC record. North Carolina’s Corey Holliday had the old record of 45 games.
Washington, a senior, completed 6 of 10 passes for 102 yards and had 19 carries for 62 yards in his final home game. He matched his career high with the three touchdown passes. He also threw three scoring passes against Western Carolina on Sept. 1, 2011.
”I wanted to make sure we came out with a lot of energy and focus as a senior class,” Washington said.
Georgia Tech ran the ball on 72 of its 80 plays in its spread-option attack and had 330 yards rushing with no turnovers. Godhigh had 18 carries for 72 yards, David Sims had 70 yards rushing with a touchdown and Orwin Smith added 67 yards.
”Generally, when you play a team that runs this offense, they’re going to make a mistake,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. ”They’re going to fumble a snap, they’re going to fumble the exchange, they’re going to pitch one on the ground. They did not. … You’re not going to shut them down.”
Even a rare loose ball worked in Georgia Tech’s favor. A third-quarter pass from Washington bounced off receiver Chris Jackson’s hands – and into the hands of left tackle Ray Beno, who rambled 9 yards for a first down.
An extra week of practice didn’t seem to help Duke’s defense. Georgia Tech was successful on 13 of 20 third-down plays and each of its four fourth-down conversions.
”We definitely felt prepared,” said Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike, who said the Blue Devils’ scout defense couldn’t imitate ”the speed that Georgia Tech is gonna run it.”
Renfree completed 24 of 36 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as Duke took its third straight loss.
The Blue Devils’ offense could only watch as Georgia Tech held the ball more than 38 minutes with time-consuming scoring drives of 13, 10, 16, 13, 18 and six plays. Duke was left with less than 22 minutes.
”We had five possessions in the first half,” said Duke receiver Desmond Scott. ”That’s unbelievable. I remember one series they had the ball for at least seven minutes. Sitting on the sideline, you’re thinking to yourself we’ve got to get the ball and score quick.”
Washington was again the most prominent quarterback after he played only two possessions in last week’s 68-50 win over North Carolina.
Washington set a school and ACC record for career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback when he capped a 13-play drive with his 1-yard scoring run on Georgia Tech’s first drive. The rushing touchdown was his 36th. Joshua Nesbitt had the old record of 35 for the Yellow Jackets from 2007-10.
Vad Lee, who played most of last week’s game behind Washington, had four carries for 13 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 17 yards.
”Tevin played a great game,” Johnson said. ”Tevin was more of the hot hand, so we left him in.”
Georgia Tech led 28-24 when Washington led an 18-play touchdown drive that lasted 8 minutes, 31 seconds. It was the Yellow Jackets’ longest drive by number of plays and time of possession this season.
The only pass of the drive was Washington’s 8-yard touchdown toss to Godhigh with about 10 minutes remaining.
On Duke’s next possession, linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu’s third-down sack of Renfree forced only the Blue Devils’ second punt of the game.
Attaochu delivered another key stop on a fake punt by Duke’s Will Monday with about 5 minutes remaining.
Renfree, who had a 9-yard scoring run, had touchdown passes of 24 yards to Desmond Scott in the first quarter and 1 yard to Juwan Thompson in the third quarter.
Duke’s Lee Butler had four kickoff returns for 98 yards before leaving with a knee injury. Cutcliffe said Butler likely will need surgery.