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The Duke-Georgia Tech Rivalry Is Better Than You Think Part II

Jim wraps up his look at one of the southeast’s most enduring rivalries.

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Georgia Tech v Duke
DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 18: T.J. Rahming #3 of the Duke Blue Devils makes an acrobatic catch against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Duke and Georgia Tech maintained a rough parity during the 1980s, although these games rarely generated national attention. Both teams were unranked nationally every meeting between 1967 and 1989.

Doesn’t mean there wasn’t some good football played between the rivals.

Duke won seven of eight between 1976 and 1983. Duke even won in 1980, 17-12, one of Duke’s two wins that season. The other was at Clemson.

Georgia Tech was 1-9-1 in 1980. Bowl scouts did not crowd Wallace Wade that November afternoon.

Still, Red Wilson went 3-1 against a depleted Tech program.

Steve Sloan took over for Wilson for the 1983 season. A former Alabama quarterback, Sloan coached Duke like it had Alabama-level talent.

Duke did not. Sloan lost his first seven games at Duke.

Georgia Tech was eighth on the schedule. Ben Bennett was a senior in 1983 and had a difficult time convincing Sloan to open up the offense. Bennett passed for 255 yards, defensive end Harry Ward got a late safety on a sack and Duke won 32-26, the first of three straight wins that only partially salvaged Bennett’s senior season.

Mark Militello had 13 catches, for 140 yards in the Tech game.

Steve Spurrier was a perfect 3-0 against Tech, two of the wins among the highlights of his Duke tenure.

Spurrier’s first season at Duke was a frustrating one, 5-6, with all but one of the losses by seven or fewer points. Duke was 3-4 when the 2-5 Yellow Jackets visited Duke on Halloween, 1987.

Steve Slayden was Duke’s quarterback, a senior from Atlanta. He still ranks fifth in career passing yards at Duke.

But Slayden had been benched earlier in the season after a slew of interceptions and did not play at all against Clemson, two weeks before the Tech game.

A man with something to prove, against a porous secondary.

Slayden connected on 31-of-42 passes, for 396 yards. Running back Roger Boone caught 12 passes, for 169 yards.

This remains the second-most receiving yards by a Duke running back, trailing only the 180 Tom Powers posted against Richmond in 1950.

Most impressively, Slayden connected on six touchdown passes, three to Clarkston Hines, the longest from 32 yards out.

Slayden was the first ACC quarterback to throw six TD passes in a game. It’s been matched five times since—twice by Deshaun Watson—but never surpassed.

Tech quarterback Darrell Gast passed for 416 yards in a losing effort but threw three crucial interceptions. The two teams combined for 1,060 total yards.

Duke hosted Georgia Tech two years later, with more on the line. Duke had overcome a 1-3 start with an upset of Clemson and was 4-3, 2-1 in the ACC, when the 3-3 Ramblin’ Wreck came visiting, a three-game winning streak in hand.

The Ole Ball Coach is known for his passing but on this day, he relied on the legs of Randy Cuthbert. Billy Ray passed for 228 yards but it was Cuthbert’s 234 yards on 32 carries that keyed Duke’s 30-19 win.

Cuthbert established a Duke single-game rushing record that day that has been surpassed only twice since then, Robert Baldwin against Maryland in 1994 and Shaun Wilson against Kansas in 2014.

The game helped Duke to a share of the 1989 ACC title and helped Cuthbert become the first Devil since Steve Jones in 1972 to pass the 1,000-yard-rushing barrier.

A crowd of 38,621 crowded Wade that day.

That 1989 season marked the recent high-water mark for Duke football and the program’s decline can be charted in the series with Tech.

Georgia Tech won a share of the 1990 national title, a 48-31 win over Duke barely a stumbling block in their 11-0-1 season.

That marked the first of four straight Tech wins in the series. Fred Goldsmith’s first Duke team beat Tech 27-12 in 1994, with Baldwin rushing for 162 yards.

This was Duke’s only win in Atlanta from 1988 through 2014.

Tech won the next eight, suffered a loss, then won 10 in a row, a generation-long dominance that saw them win 22-of-24 games against Duke.

There were some rays of sunlight. Duke came close-but-no-cigar in 1999, against Heisman Trophy runner-up Joe Hamilton. Duke led 31-24 in the middle of the fourth quarter, before Hamilton led two scoring drives. He passed for 324 yards, as Tech escaped Wade with a 38-31 win.

Georgia Tech alum Ted Roof took over from Carl Franks in the middle of the 2003 season. Roof went from interim to head coach largely on the strength of a 41-17 win that ended a 30-game Duke ACC-losing streak.

Chris Douglas rushed for 218 yards and two touchdowns, while Malcolm Ruff returned an interception 42 yards for a score.

Douglas’s rushing total remains the fourth-best in Duke history.

Perhaps the most remarkable one-quarter performance in Duke history came in 1997, a home game against Georgia Tech, Senior Day for Duke.

Corey Thomas was one of those seniors, a speedy wide receiver from nearby Wilson and one of the best players on a Duke team that would end the season 2-9.

Freshman Bobby Campbell started the game at quarterback for Duke but was replaced after throwing three interceptions. His replacement was career back-up David Green, a Charlotte native also playing his final home game.

It didn’t much matter. Duke was in a four-touchdown hole entering the fourth quarter. And Tech probably put it on cruise control a bit.

Still, it’s hard to fathom what happened in that final quarter. Green hit Thomas for nine completions, four of them touchdowns, 36 yards the longest.

Duke closed to 41-38 but ran out of time.

Still, Thomas ended the game with 16 receptions, for 276 yards, the former still a school record.

Green had a career-high 335 yards, completing 21-of-27 passes.

The series got one-sided again early this century, as Georgia Tech won 10 straight, including each of the first six meetings between Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets and David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils.

But that’s a misleading statistic. Johnson took over the Tech job after Chan Gailey was fired. Gailey was 44-32 at Tech, never a losing season, six bowl games in six years.

In fact, Johnson took over a program that had gone bowling in each of its previous 11 seasons.

Cutcliffe, meanwhile took over a program that had posted one winning season in the previous 18.

In other words, Johnson and Cutcliffe took over programs with much different talent levels and it took Cutcliffe some time to catch up.

But catch up he has, if recent years are any indication.

Duke has won three of the last four, a measure of success not seen in this rivalry since Spurrier was on the Duke sideline.

One of the oldest rivalries in the mid-south is back on.

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