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'Noles, Ponder show no mercy

TALLAHASSEE — If you were wondering why Florida State redshirt sophomore Christian Ponder won the starting quarterback job, all you had to do was watch the second quarter of Saturday's season opener.

He rifled the ball to his playmakers in space so they could dazzle.

He safely tucked the ball away and dashed upfield for chunks of yardage.

He put up points, 21 of them in the decisive quarter.

The Seminoles' resoundingly predictable 69-0 win at Doak Campbell Stadium came against the Western Carolina Catamounts, a Division I-AA lightweight that FSU lined up to ease the loss of 10 key players due to an academic misconduct scandal and an influx of 39 newcomers.

Even with that caveat, Ponder, making his first start and just his second career appearance, showed the folks who weathered two rain/lightning delays that totaled more than two hours the promise that so enthralled offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and earned him this opportunity.

"He got in the groove of the game," Fisher said. "And got the offense moving."

The Seminoles (1-0) scored on their last nine possessions, all touchdowns, as they cruised to their largest margin of victory ever.

"I was very encouraged with (Ponder's) play," said coach Bobby Bowden, who blessed Fisher's decision to go with him.

Not that he didn't begin the game like a first-time starter.

"I was pretty nervous," he admitted.

The Seminoles took a 7-0 lead on cornerback Tony Carter's 68-yard punt return in the opening minutes (just before the second weather delay), and after a few series, Ponder settled down and was nearly flawless in the second quarter.

Working behind a largely inexperienced line, he hit 7 of 10 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns, mainly by getting the ball to redshirt junior receiver Rod Owens and redshirt freshman receiver Bert Reed.

Owens had four catches in the quarter for 61 yards. He had just six catches for 55 yards last season. Reed, a speedster, had two receptions for 55 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown.

"I got a little confidence back, and I was able to relax and get grounded and just started getting the ball in everybody else's hands so they could do stuff with it," Ponder said.

The short, safe confidence-building passes worked well in part thanks to downfield blocking by other receivers, most notably Corey Surrency, a power­fully built 6-5, 220-pound junior college transfer.

"I was just doing my job," said Surrency, who only a few days ago learned he had been cleared to play this season. "When I make plays, they're doing the same thing for me. And I'm helping the team out."

In the waning moments of the half, Ponder flashed his 4.6 speed by scrambling 25 yards when the Catamounts (1-1) tried to lock down on two receivers, leaving the quarterback unaccounted for, which isn't a good idea with Ponder back there.

"There wasn't anyone open, so I tucked it and tried to get yards," he said.

"It's the ability to create," Fisher gushed.

The run set up a 7-yard touchdown pass to Surrency to cap the blitz against the Catamounts, who snapped a seven-game losing streak with their season-opening win against NAIA Shorter College.

Ponder opened the second half with a 54-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Greg Carr, who made an adjustment on a slightly underthrown ball for his 26th career score. That completed Ponder's night. He was 11-of-17 for 196 yards and had three rushes for 39 yards. And he had no turnovers, something that marred his debut in relief last year at Virginia Tech.

Redshirt sophomore D'Vontrey Richardson took over and was simply dazzling. He had a pair of touchdown runs, 52 and 7 yards, and then threw a 3-yard touchdown to freshman receiver Jarmon Fortson.

Former Land O'Lakes quarterback Drew Weatherford, who had been a three-year starter for FSU, entered late in the final quarter to a warm welcome from the fans among the announced crowd of 73,024 who remained. He engineered one more touchdown drive to close the scoring.

"It gave us a lot of confidence," Ponder said. "We realize the potential that we have."

FSU 69

W. Carolina 0

'Noles, Ponder show no mercy 09/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 9:51am]
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