Georgia Tech defensive back Jemea Thomas goes over over Duke tight end Cooper Helfet for an interception with two minutes left in the game to seal the Yellow Jacket's 38-31 victory. CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com
Updated 6:25 p.m.
DURHAM – The odds favored Duke on the play. Tight end Cooper Helfet knew it. That’s why quarterback Sean Renfree threw the ball to Helfet.
With less than three minutes left, Duke was driving for a game-tying touchdown against Georgia Tech. That’s when Renfree threw up a jump ball to Helfet, who is 6 feet 4. Guarding him was 5-10 cornerback Jemea Thomas.
Helfet jumped. Then Thomas leaped over Helfet. Thomas’ interception sealed Georgia Tech’s 38-31 victory over Duke on Saturday afternoon.
The feeling after this one was familiar for the Blue Devils (3-8, 1-6 ACC). Like previous ACC home games this year, the excitement inside Wallace Wade Stadium in the fourth quarter turned into disappointment.
Another loss. Another come-from-behind attempt denied. Another heartbreaker.
“I thought I made a good play on the ball,” Helfet said of the interception. “The ball kind of just landed in his lap it seemed like. Somehow he snagged it.”
Helfet and Renfree kept Duke in the game. Twice in the fourth quarter the pair connected for touchdowns.
The first score came on fourth-and-two from Georgia Tech’s three-yard line. Before the play, Helfet ran across the tight goal line formation before running back to his original spot on the field for a fade route in the corner. Helfet caught the pass after he lost his defender when Renfree executed the play-action fake.
On the next possession, Renfree found Helfet for a 10-yard score.
When Georgia Tech running back Charles Perkins fumbled after running into his teammate with 3:44 left, Helfet said he expected to make another pivotal play.
“Everyone was so excited,” Helfet said. “We were moving up the field and then (Thomas) just made the play.”
Coach David Cutcliffe agreed with Renfree’s decision to throw to Helfet.
“He trusted Cooper,” Cutcliffe said of Renfree, who finished with four touchdowns. “(Thomas) is not very big, and I teach know your matchups before you give some guy a shot.”
But like so many games this season, Cutcliffe knew his Blue Devils had multiple chances to have a different outcome.
Even before Renfree’s interception, Cutcliffe saw his injury-depleted defense put the offense in a tough situation.
On the last play of the first half, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson elected to go for a touchdown rather than a field goal on fourth-and-goal from Duke’s one-yard line.
A stop would have given the Blue Devils momentum. It also would have kept the Yellow Jackets’ lead at seven.
Cutcliffe said his defense was ready for the Yellow Jackets’ play, a sweep to right by running back Embry Peeples. Safety Matt Daniels was in position to make the tackle, but Peeples reached the pylon.
“That would have been a huge play,” Cutcliffe said. “We had the absolute perfect call. Sometimes they just don’t work.”
Then, in the fourth quarter, Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington used his legs to produce the game-winning score. Washington faked his option-pitch before sprinting 39 yards.
“I came up and I had the pitch,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “I just saw (Washington) break out of the pack. Somebody was supposed to play the quarterback.”
While his team has to continue to endure its six-game losing streak, Cutcliffe said he’s not discouraged. He’s still impressed with the Blue Devils’ preparation.
But Duke has only one game left this season, a road game with North Carolina next week, to figure out how to make more plays than its opponent.
“It’s just frustrating,” Helfet said. “I don’t really know what the magic recipe is.”