DURHAM, N.C. -- When Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims flung the ball in the air off his back foot from the Duke 46-yard line from a quickly compressing pocket, Yellow Jackets linebacker Ayinde Eley had faith in teammate Adonicas Sanders.

“I had full belief that, once the ball was in the air, I saw him run under it, I just knew he was going to catch it,” Eley said. “We’ve seen ‘Dono’ make a play like that in practice probably over 100 times.”

Eley’s faith was rewarded. With time running out, Sanders ran under Sims’ pass for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left in the game, the game-winning play in Tech’s 31-27 win over Duke on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium. It broke a three-game losing streak in Durham and improved the Jackets’ record to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the ACC. Tech’s hopes for a bowl game were preserved. Duke (3-3, 0-2) was not exactly a football titan to be feared – the Jackets were a four-point favorite – but the Jackets demonstrated that they had the savvy to win on a day when they weren’t at their best.

“The only thing I care about is we’re 1-0 (Saturday),” coach Geoff Collins said. “That’s all I care about, and that’s the only thing we’re worried about – coming up here and getting a win on the road and getting the bad taste out of our mouths from last week.”

It was a victory that was generated out of an overcast afternoon in which injuries and stretches of mediocre play set the stage for Sims and Sanders’ shining moment at the end. When Tech took the field at its 12-yard line, 1:42 remained. The Jackets had scored once in their previous seven possessions (not counting one to end the first half). Duke’s up-tempo offense, the steady running of Blue Devils running back Mataeo Durant and the playmaking of quarterback Gunnar Holmberg had enabled the Blue Devils to recover from a 14-0 deficit to take a 27-24 lead with 5:06 left in the game.

Further, Tech had been hit hard by injuries in the secondary, at wide receiver and on the offensive line, and had started the game without its top two tight ends, Dylan Leonard and Dylan Deveney.

“We were decimated at certain positions, and it didn’t matter,” Collins said. “We just kept rolling guys through to find way to get the win.”

The gloomy possibility of defeat – this one following the Jackets’ blowout loss to Pittsburgh the previous Saturday – permeated the misty air, especially after Tech went three-and-out and punted the ball away after the Duke field goal to take the lead. But the Jackets defense earned its own stop – this one after the Blue Devils had maneuvered 80 yards for scores on back-to-back drives – to give their counterparts on offense one final chance to rescue the afternoon.

“You’re never out of it until you’re out of it,” said Eley, who led Tech with a season-high 13 tackles and made a game-changing quarterback pressure that prevented a likely touchdown that led to the Duke field goal for the 27-24 lead. “We’re just going to keep playing our brand of defense and at the end of the game, you look up, whatever (the scoreboard) says, that’s what it says.”

Sims, who had completed eight of 20 passes before the final drive, found Sanders for a 37-yard gain on a vertical route before finding him again on a third-and-6 play from the Duke 36. Despite Sims’ struggles to that point, playing it safe for an overtime-forcing field goal was not the option.

“We wanted to win the game,” Collins said.