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DOWN 18, PONDER RALLIES FSU

Christian Ponder leads a Seminoles comeback, tying a school record with a 98-yard touchdown pass during the second half.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had been trying for some time to remind frustrated fans that it was far too early to give up; half the season remained, daggumit.

That wasn't going over so well.

Maybe it will now.

Down by 18 early in the second half against one of the nation's stingiest defenses, the Seminoles rallied behind another stellar game from quarterback Christian Ponder to pull out a 30-27 win against North Carolina in the first Thursday night ESPN game played at Kenan Stadium.

The Seminoles (3-4, 1-3) snapped a three-game losing streak and should, for now, temper some of the fans' disenchantment with a season they thought was spiraling toward the first losing season since Bowden's debut in 1976.

Although the Heels (4-3, 0-3) entered allowing an average of just 125.17 passing yards, first nationally, Ponder picked them apart.

He hit 33 of 40 passes for a career-high 395 yards - his third straight game setting a personal benchmark - and three second-half touchdowns, including what proved to be the winner to tight end Beau Reliford, an 18-yarder with 6:20 left.

"The first 21/2 quarters ... we looked like the worst team,'' Bowden said. "We finally won a close game.''

In the third quarter, after an interception ended a UNC threat, FSU receiver Rod Owens got by cornerback Charles Brown and pulled in a pass from Ponder down the right sideline. Brown caught him and tried to trip him up near midfield, but Owens kept his balance and raced the rest of the way for a 98-yard touchdown.

It was FSU's longest pass play since Chris Weinke hit Marvin Minnis for 98 yards in a win against Clemson in 2000 and was the longest in Kenan Stadium history.

Maybe it was their new-look dark blue jerseys, a first for the Tar Heels, but their heretofore sputtering offense looked a lot different on the opening drive.

They went 80 yards on 10 plays, which included a pass from fullback Bobby Rome to receiver Greg Little for 31 yards and set up Little's 5-yard touchdown run.

After a replay overturned a lost fumble call, the Seminoles cut the deficit to 7-3 on freshman Dustin Hopkins 48-yard field goal.

The Heels led 17-6 at halftime.

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