The stands in Kenan Stadium echoed disappointment when UNC football's graduate transfer running back Ty Chandler started off with a fumble on the opening snap against undefeated No. 9 Wake Forest.
The ball was recovered by a Wake Forest linebacker, putting the Demon Deacons at the 34-yard line, eventually leading to an early field goal.
If fans needed an example of the old maxim, “it’s not how you start, but how you finish,” Ty Chandler provided it on Saturday.
He ended up a key player in UNC’s upset, finishing with four touchdowns – including three in the fourth quarter – in North Carolina's epic 58-55 comeback victory.
“I’m super happy for Ty, what a phenomenal game,” junior quarterback Sam Howell said. “He ran the ball super well. The O-Line did a really good job for him, but he made a lot of guys miss, broke a lot of tackles, did a good job in the passing game as well.”
Chandler’s final touchdown, a 50-yard gain with 01:12 on the clock, put the game away for the Tar Heels.
“He was running aggressive, but still protecting the ball, and he saw a hole and just hit it.” Howell said.
Chandler ran aggressively for the entirety of the game. He led the team with a career-high 213 rushing yards. This was his second game with more than 100 yards in the past three games.
“I think probably in my coaching career, there’s less than 10 times that we have lost when we’ve out-rushed the opponent,” head coach Mack Brown said.
Howell finished with 104 rushing yards, and sophomore running back D.J. Jones with 19, bringing the team total to 330 yards versus 217 yards for Wake Forest.
Brown mentioned that one of the reasons Chandler transferred to North Carolina was because he saw how successful the former Tar Heel running backs had been and how he could succeed in the system.
Saturday’s game was a prime example of Chandler’s expectations coming to life.
“This is what we work for every week," Chandler said. “This is why those guys in the running back room push me every week. I love competing with those guys, and they push me to be the player that I am.”
Despite being a transfer student, Chandler has learned how to play with the team and execute major plays, leading the team in touchdowns against Wake Forest.
“Ty is getting the feel of the offense, he’s making better cuts, he’s showing better patience, and all of those things are really helping us,” Brown said.
Howell said Chandler had worked hard to prepare for this game, and he’s gotten better every single week since he came to UNC.
“He’s just trying to be the best Ty Chandler he can be, and we saw one of the best performances out of a running back in school history here today,” Howell said.
Despite his standout performance, Chandler credited the offensive line and the defensive team for their ability to respond and stay strong, even when UNC was down.
He said that it came down to being able to respond to adversity, which he noted was a team effort.
“We were just breathing life into each other, man, and encouraging each other, just keeping it going, responding to adversity no matter how stuff went,” Chandler said. “I’m glad that paid off for us."
Once the game ended and fans stormed the field, the opening fumble was long out of sight. The stands didn’t have an ounce of disappointment in Chandler — or the Tar Heels.
By the end of the game, the sounds of the Kenan Stadium stands and freshly-rushed Chris Smith Field echoed something else: triumph.
“This is what we dreamed of,” Chandler said.
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