Epic comeback leads UNC past No. 9 Wake Forest

The Tar Heels rallied to win a nonconference game against their ACC rival

North Carolina running back Ty Chandler runs for a touchdown as offensive lineman Jordan Tucker blocks Wake Forest defensive back Traveon Redd during the Tar Heels' 58-55 win Saturday in Chapel Hill. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina recorded its biggest win of the season and in the process likely knocked the ACC out of the College Football Playoff.

The Tar Heels came back from 18 points down to defeat No. 9 Wake Forest 58-55 in a wild offensive slugfest at Kenan Stadium.


“I’ve told them: every Saturday you build memories,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “That’s what you do. And this is a game that they will remember for the rest of their lives. And I’m really, really proud that my name is associated with them.”

The win moved UNC above .500, at 5-4 on the season. The Tar Heels entered the year as a top-10 team holding out hope of earning a bid to the playoff. But it was instead the visiting Demon Deacons who held that position eight weeks into the campaign.

Wake was a perfect 8-0, the league’s lone remaining unbeaten team, and ranked in the top 10 for the first time in school history. The Deacs looked to impress the CFP selection committee, which had them at a relatively low No. 9 in their initial set of rankings released earlier in the week.

The game matched two of the top quarterbacks in the nation in UNC’s Sam Howell and Wake’s Sam Hartman. Both Sams lived up to their billing, leading their teams to a combined 1,161 yards of offense and 113 points.

Hartman passed for 398 yards and five touchdowns, adding 78 yards and two scores on the ground. Howell passed for 216 yards and a score while rushing for 104 yards and two touchdowns, passing Marquise Williams for UNC’s career record in total offense.

The teams came out firing, scoring on seven of the game’s first 10 possessions. The teams also closed out the third quarter by scoring on six out of seven possessions.

Wake Forest appeared to be the more potent of the two offenses, pulling away as the third quarter went on. Less than two minutes after Hartman ran 21 yards for a score — and a double-digit lead for the Deacs — he hit A.T. Perry for a 66-yard touchdown pass to put Wake up by 18.

That set the stage for a fourth quarter comeback — the second straight year the Tar Heels have bounced back late to erase a big lead by the Deacs. UNC outscored Wake 28-8 last November to erase a 14-point margin for the Deacs and win 59-53.

This year, down the stretch, the Sam and Sam Show became Ty Chandler’s time to shine.

The UNC running back capped a 213-yard day with three fourth-quarter touchdown runs. A 13-yarder made it a one-score game. Less than a minute later, his 21-yard scoring run tied the game. After a field goal gave UNC the lead with just over a minute left, Chandler ran 50 yards to put the Tar Heels up 10.

While Chandler was running wild, the much-maligned UNC defense, which had given up 121 points in the three previous games, came up strong. On three drives early in the quarter, Carolina got an interception — the second of the game by defensive back Cam’Ron Kelly — and stopped Wake on downs twice.

Chandler ran for 117 yards in the fourth quarter alone, averaging 11.7 yards a carry in the final 15 minutes.

Wake wasn’t ready to give up its playoff dreams. The Deacs managed a last-minute touchdown, but they couldn’t recover the onside kick to take a shot at a win. Carolina students stormed the field as time ran out.

The game between the two ACC foes was a nonconference game, scheduled because Carolina and Wake don’t play regularly in the unbalanced ACC schedule. That means the Demon Deacons still stand a strong chance of winning the Atlantic Division and advancing to the ACC Championship Game.

But any chance of sneaking into the College Football Playoff ended amid a sea of Carolina Blue.