By HANK KURZ, JR.
AP Sports Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Josh Jackson threw for a touchdown before the weather turned bad, and ran for another after it got really sloppy to keep No. 13 Virginia Tech on track to have its destiny in its control with what coach Justin Fuente called the “gauntlet” ahead.
The Hokies’ 24-3 victory against Duke was their third in a row, and set up the next two weeks as decisive. Virgnia Tech plays at Miami on Saturday, and then Georgia Tech, and those three schools are the ones most likely to play in the ACC title games.
Jackson’s scoring pass to Sean Savoy came with 15 seconds left in the first half, giving Virginia Tech a 17-3 lead. The running score was just window dressing on a night when Virginia Tech never let Duke get anything going on offense. They finished with just 183 yards.
The touchdown was of great comfort after the Hokies struggled and squandered some opportunities too.
“I thought that was a big point in the game.” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said. “It’s easy to say in retrospect. I’m not a meteorologist, but I thought the weather was going to get bad and to score a touchdown and to go into half with the rain picking up and that sport of stuff was pretty big.”
Said Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who finished 10 for 24 for 82 yards with an interception: “We out our defense in a tough position.”
Jackson wasn’t much better, completing 13 of 27 throws for 200 yards, but the one to Savoy was huge.
“Throwing the ball was pretty hard and we didn’t do a lot of it, but it was whole lot of fun,” he said. “I saw the look and they were just bringing the house on us and I looked to him and just said, ‘win.’ That’s all I really said to him and I threw it up and he just made a great catch.”
The Hokies missed several opportunities in the first half, twice failing to get the necessary yardage on fourth-down plays. But Duke running back Shaun Wilson was called for a personal foul on third-and-6 from Duke’s 6 late in the half. The play went for no gain, Austin Parker was forced to punt with his feet nearly on the line at the back of the end zone and the Hokies converted the mistake into a touchdown.
Jackson hit Eric Kumah for 16 yards, then spiked the ball to stop the clock. He finished with the pass to Savoy to make it 17-3.
The Hokies (7-1, 3-1) took a 24-3 lead in the third quarter on Jackson’s 6-yard run in the third quarter, all but cementing a third victory in a row on a night when it rained for most of the second half and footing became increasingly uncertain.
The Blue Devils (4-5, 1-5) lost their fifth in a row. They had fewer than 100 yards of offense until late in the third quarter when quarterback Daniel Jones broke free for a 33-yard run. But Jones threw incomplete on fourth-and-14 from the Virginia Tech 28 to turn the ball over.
Duke: When the Blue Devils won four in a row to start the season, Jones’ running ability seemed a big part of their identity in those games, including a 108-yard, two-touchdown performance against Northwestern. Without much of a running game to speak of aside from Jones occasionally taking off, Duke managed just 98 yards in the first half despite holding onto the ball from longer than Virginia. That’s not the kind of production that will get them to a bowl game.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies weren’t overly effective on offense, but Jackson, a redshirt freshman, continues to avoid silly mistakes. He now has 17 touchdown passes against only four interceptions. If he remains efficient, Bud Foster’s defense certainly gives them a fighting chance in the next two games at Miami and at Georgia Tech.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
Duke had won its last two visits to Lane Stadium, including a 45-43 four-overtime game in 2015, the longest game in ACC history.
We definitely weren’t thinking ahead,” linebacker Mook Reynolds said. “We had to go handle business today.”
Duke has a bye week then stays at home to play Army, which has won four in a row.
The Hokies begin a critical two-game road trip that should decide the Coastal champion as they play at Miami and then at Georgia Tech.