Florida State put together a convincing victory for the second straight week. But, this one had more meaning - for a number of reasons.
For starters, this was a conference game and the Seminoles started out ACC play with a 31-0 shutout of Wake Forest (2-2, 1-1 ACC) on Saturday night in front of large sections of empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium - the announced number of 61,647 tickets distributed made for the smallest home crowd in 18 years and a weather delay in the second half left less than half that number in the stands by the end.
It also marked the end to an unwanted trend during the tail end of the Bobby Bowden era as the Seminoles (3-1, 1-0), who travel to Virginia next Saturday, had lost their ACC openers in each of the last three seasons.
"It's great to have that first ACC win and get things started on the right note," said rookie head coach Jimbo Fisher. "Like I said (earlier), the season starts (now), the preseason is over."
The Seminoles, who were coming off a 34-10 win over BYU, also exacted some revenge as Wake had won their last two meetings at Doak. The Demon Deacons didn't give up a touchdown in either matchup, including a 30-0 shutout of their own in 2006.
The 'Noles returned the favor this time with a dominating defensive performance that featured their first shutout of an opponent since a 33-0 win over Virginia in '06.
"That was the first time I've actually got to beat them," said Ponder, who was injured for FSU's 41-28 win at Wake last season. "This was definitely a game we had to get through and we are excited with how the results turned out."
After two subpar performances, Ponder bounced back by throwing for two touchdowns and running for another score. The fifth-year senior, who missed practice time earlier in the week due to a bruised throwing arm, finished 24-of-37 for 243 yards and didn't throw a pick.
Still, much like in the BYU game, Ponder and the offense struggled to get in the end zone early on. An 18-play drive in the first quarter got the ball inside the Wake 5, but came away with no points as Ponder was hit in the pocket and fumbled the ball away.
The 'Noles took a 10-0 lead into the half despite getting into the red zone four times over the first two quarters. Then on the first drive of the third quarter, Ponder was hit and lost the ball again in Wake territory.
The defense then forced a three-and-out and that's when both teams headed to the locker room due to lightning in the area. When they returned 42 minutes later, FSU took over.
The Seminoles put together a nine-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Ponder finding the end zone on a 6-yard run that put his team up 17-0.
The defense then forced another three-and-out and Willie Haulstead went on to make his the second touchdown catch of the day and his career on a 4-yard throw from Ponder to put the 'Noles up 24-0 with 7:28 left in the game.
FSU dealt with three straight days of lightning delays during preseason practice and Fisher credited that experience with why they excelled following the unexpected break.
"That's why I did them," Fisher said of having his team wait out weather delays in August. "That's why I made them sit there for two and a half hours and three hours. Both times, if you remember right, when we had those practices were we stayed I said we went back out and practiced afterwards better than before. Guess what happens? We play better after the lightning delay than before the lightning delay."
The defense, which came into the game leading the FBS with 13 sacks, added six more, including two from defensiv eend Brandon Jenkins.
FSU back-up quarterback E.J. Manuel, who led FSU to their win over Wake last year, entered on FSU's final drive and fired a 23-yard touchdown pass to true freshman receiver Kenny Shaw. It was the first touchdown catch of Shaw's career.
Dustin Hopkins made a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter and came up short on a 51-yard attempt.
Florida State replaced left tackle Henry Orelus, who was making his second start in place of the injured Andrew Datko (shoulder), with redshirt freshman Garrett Faircloth at halftime. Fisher said afterwards that Datko was still "day to day" and would be reevaluated next week. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes missed the second half for the second straight week with a leg injury but Fisher said it wasn't serious.
FSU now has 23 wins over Wake, which equals the most wins against any opponent in school history.
FSU's game captains were Ponder, Hopkins and linebacker Kendall Smith.
The kickoff time for Florida State's next game on Saturday at Virginia will be announced on Sunday.