Oct. 31, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s the stuff legends are made of. The type of defining moment in one’s career that helps describe what type of player you are.
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder got to experience one of those moments in Saturday’s nail-biting, come-from-behind 45-42 over visiting N.C. State – with a little help from his buddy Bert Reed.
Trailing by four with just 3:39 to go in the ballgame, Ponder orchestrated an eight-play, 66-yard drive that saw the redshirt junior complete three of his five pass attempts for 46 yards.
|Christian Ponder Interview|
Helping matters was Reed, who took an end around 15 yards on the fifth play of the drive from his wide receiver spot and then took another into the endzone from three yards away for the game-winning score in the final minute-and-a-half.
“I know with our offense we have the ability to score every time and we should,” Ponder said. “I knew we were going to punch that in and everybody knew that. We had the confidence to do it.”
Ponder, who was noticeably not 100 percent all day long because of a rib contusion he sustained early in the game, was 26-of-40 for 277 yards and one touchdown. He did throw his second interception (and eventual third) of the season but it happened after a staggering 254-straight passes without a miscue.
In a game eerily similar to the one against Georgia Tech when the FSU (4-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) offense could move at will and the defense could not keep its opponent off the scoreboard, the Seminoles avoided heartbreak this time around.
Against the Yellow Jackets, FSU sputtered a bit on offense in the second half but in the N.C. State (3-5, 0-4) game that wasn’t the case – thanks in large part to Jermaine Thomas’ career day.
The Jacksonville, Fla. native experienced his best game as a Seminole as the sophomore tailback rushed for a personal-best 186 yards and two touchdowns.
“Jermaine ran the ball really well and the offensive line opened up these holes,” Ponder said. “We were able to do a lot of things on the ground.”
Wide receiver Rod Owens followed up his memorable performance against North Carolina with seven catches for 56 yards and one touchdown and Taiwan Easterling led all FSU players with 73 yards on five grabs. Reed added 66 yards on six catches to go along with his impact in the running game.
As a team, FSU rattled off 555 yards of offense, including 278 on the ground – a welcome sign for a ball club that has struggled in that department this year.
While the offense lit up the scoreboard, the defense couldn’t prevent N.C. State from doing the same.
Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson had a monster outing, throwing for a career- high five touchdown passes to tie the school record. He was 20-of-30 for 349 yards on Saturday, with 165 of those yards coming by way of his five connections with wide receiver Owen Spencer.
Jarvis Williams also added three touchdowns on three catches and tailback Toney Baker rushed for 112 yards on 19 carries for the ‘Pack.
Credit the defense, though, because they stepped up when they had to on the game’s final possession.
“We knew that we had to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” sophomore linebacker Nigel Bradham said about the defense’s game-sealing stand. “We pretty much knew on that series that we were going to have to help our DBs and get a good pass rush.”
Just over a week after a record-setting 98-yard pass-play got the ‘Noles into the endzone against the Tar Heels, FSU used a 98-yard drive to get on the board for the first time against N.C. State midway through the first quarter.
Thomas was the workhorse for FSU on the drive as he ran five times for 37 yards, including the four-yard score.
But the Seminole lead would prove to be quite brief.
On N.C. State’s very next play, Wilson found Spencer deep for an 80-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.
Undeterred, Ponder and the offense went right back onto the field and answered nearly as quickly as their counterparts. Just 1:05 later, true freshman Chris Thompson capped off a four-play 68-yard drive with his first-ever touchdown run as a Seminole.
After the Wolfpack responded to another FSU score on their next drive, Thomas continued the lightning-fast pace of the game by bolting into the endzone from 54 yards out to give Florida State a 21-14 lead.
The `Pack then added another score just before halftime to tie even the scoreboard at 21-21.
Questions about whether or not Ponder would play in the second half after his rib injury in the first were quickly forgotten after both teams emerged from the locker room.
The ‘Noles standout signal-caller led FSU to a score on its first possession of the third quarter when he found a wide open Owens for a six-yard, go-ahead touchdown.
But the defense gave the points right back on Wilson’s seven-yard pass to Williams at the tail end of an 80-yard drive. The N.C. State scoring effort once again tied the game and then its defense nearly changed the trend of back-and-forth scoring.
Ponder was forced into throwing his second interception of the game but as Wolfpack defensive tackle Natanu Mageo was rumbling down the field on the return, a heady play by FSU receiver Jarmon Fortson to strip and recover the ball gave the home team possession right back.
Fresh off their bullet-dodging play, FSU regained the lead a few minutes later on Dustin Hopkins’ 24-yard field goal just before the start of the fourth quarter.
A much-needed defensive stop then helped FSU build its biggest lead of the game. Following a 17-yard punt return by Greg Reid, the Seminoles built a 38-28 advantage on Thompson’s four-yard score with 11:52 left in the contest.
The good feelings of a bigger-than-seven-points lead evaporated quickly after that, though. Wilson’s 29-yard touchdown pass to a wide open George Bryan cut the ‘Pack deficit to 38-35 and the Seminole offense was forced to punt on the next drive.
N.C. State then took its first lead of the game at 42-38 on Wilson’s fifth touchdown pass of the day with just 3:50 left on the game.
Next up for the ‘Noles is a road matchup with the Clemson Tigers. That game is on a six-day option and the game time will be announced Sunday.