By R.L. Bynum
Former UNC quarterbacks Jace Ruder and Cade Fortin had dramatically different first games as sophomore starters for other schools.
Ruder, who had been listed last week as the co-starter with sophomore Austin Aune, started as North Texas rolled to a home win Saturday night over Northwestern State 44–14.
Fortin and South Florida struggled Thursday night in a 45–0 loss at N.C. State.
Ruder’s numbers weren’t spectacular but he engineered every scoring drive until a fourth-quarter field goal, going 10 of 21 for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception in addition to running for 23 yards.
“It was solid,” North Texas coach Seth Littrell, a former UNC assistant coach, said of Ruder’s performance. “We had some new wide receivers in there with some guys out for precautionary things. Jyaire [Shorter] didn’t play much and [Deonte Simpson] didn’t go at all. [Ruder] did some really good things.”
Ruder’s third-quarter 23-yard touchdown pass to a diving Roderick Burns was his first scoring pass since 2018 in the Carolina’s 34–28 overtime loss to N.C. State.
“I thought about it right in that moment, when I was running off to the sideline, celebrating with the guys,” Ruder said after the game. “I want to take that moment and cherish it for the rest of my life. That first touchdown in three years and first collegiate start. It’s a night I’ll remember forever.”
Ruder said that he wouldn’t change his decision out of high school to go to UNC and said that he grew as a player while in Chapel Hill.
“That time at Carolina where I was not in the field and was sidelined with injuries, year in and year out, allowed me to build leadership skills in areas that I wouldn’t have built if I was on the field, necessarily,” Ruder said. “I learned to connect with guys at a different level and coach as a player from the sideline. So, it helped me become a better man, a better teammate, a better classmate to my classmates.
“It really just showed me the value of hard work and preparing like you’re the guy even if you’re not,” Ruder said. “Just for the past three years at my previous school, even if I was on crutches, I was preparing like I was the guy. So, it’s all paying off.”
The Mean Green visits SMU at 7 p.m. Saturday night. The Mustangs blew out Abilene Christian in a home game 56–9 Saturday.
Fortin, who was 7 of 20 for 41 yards and one interception, was pulled in the second quarter in favor of Timmy McClain. After McClain threw his second interception late in the third quarter, Fortin returned to lead a 15-play, 71-yard drive that ended at the Wolfpack 4.
It gets even harder for the Bulls, who face No. 13 Florida at home at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Gators are coming off a 34–14 victory over Florida Atlantic in their opener on Saturday.