Christian Ponder admitted the nerves of his first collegiate start began to build in the hours before Florida State's season opener against Western Carolina. He had a lot of company.
More than three dozen FSU football players made their debuts Saturday against the Catamounts. But those newcomers all had a hand in the Seminoles' 69-0 win over WCU, the first FSU shutout in nearly two years and the largest winning margin in team history.
While 39 Seminoles, including 22 true freshmen, made their debut against the Catamounts, no debut was more anticipated than Ponder's as Florida State's starting quarterback. He got the news Wednesday and, while he played most of FSU's game at Virginia Tech last season, this experience felt much different.
"Last year, when I came in and wasn't the starter, it was unexpected and I didn't have time to think about it and get really nervous," he said. "This time, especially this game, where we had so much time before we got things started, I was thinking about a lot of things and I was pretty nervous."
Those nerves built over two lightning delays that lasted a combined 134 minutes and probably contributed to Ponder's quiet first quarter. The redshirt sophomore completed two of five passes for 11 yards and rushed once for seven yards. But Ponder got a lot more comfortable from the second quarter on.
He finished his day completing 12 of 18 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns. The first score came on a sideline pass to Bert Reed that Reed took on a 41-yard sprint to the end zone. The second was a seven-yarder for junior college transfer Corey Surrency's first FSU touchdown. Ponder's final touchdown pass came on a 54-yard bomb to Greg Carr in the third.
"I think that third or fourth drive, when we started throwing those bubble (screens) and finally scored, I finally got a little confidence back," Ponder said. "I was able to relax and get grounded and get the ball into everyone else's hands."
Ponder gave way to fellow redshirt sophomore D'Vontrey Richardson in the third quarter and the scoring didn't stop. Richardson had touchdown runs of 52 and seven yards and threw a three-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Jarmon Fortson for Fortson's inaugural Florida State touchdown.
FSU coach Bobby Bowden -- who climbed back into a tie with Joe Paterno with his 374th career win -- said he liked how both his young quarterbacks played, especially running the ball.
"That was very pleasing to me," Bowden said. "I'm sure that one of (offensive coordinator) Jimbo (Fisher's) reasons for going with Ponder and D'Vontrey was their feet. You saw what they did tonight. There were some first downs made out there that, if a guy can't run, you couldn't have made those first downs."
Florida State's 561 yards of total offense was the most the Seminoles had gathered since they racked up 587 yards against Wake Forest in 2005. Their 290 yards rushing were the most since gaining 251 on the ground against Western Michigan in 2006. Their margin of victory eclipsed 63-point margins set in 1988 and 1992.
But Florida State clicked on all cylinders in all three phases of the game Saturday. The FSU defense held the Catamounts to 176 yards in the shutout, sacking WCU quarterbacks three times and recovering a fumble that led to FSU's seventh touchdown. And Tony Carter returned Western Carolina's first punt of the game 67 yards for a touchdown.
But the emergence of FSU's plethora of offensive weapons might be the biggest development that came from Saturday's game. Eight different Seminoles scored touchdowns against Western Carolina, which should keep opposing defenses on their toes.
"I think it's going to carry onto the rest of the season," Ponder said. "I think this game gave us a lot of confidence and we'll be able to carry it to the next game and the rest of the season."
We will have more later this evening and into Sunday on the victory, including features, notebook, photos, video interviews, and video highlights from tonight's game.
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