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Thomas, Ponder lift Seminoles past Virginia, 34-14

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Jermaine Thomas and his Florida State teammates didn't want to wait very long Saturday before showing that their first road game was an aberration.

They didn't, either, scoring almost as many points as Virginia had yards of offense in the first half, taking a 27-0 lead into the locker room and cruising to a 34-14 victory.

"It was fun," Thomas said after running for 122 yards on just 16 carries, including touchdown runs of 70 and 10 yards. "We talked about stepping on their throat early and we just came out there with intensity. We came together as a team and got the job done."

The Seminoles looked nothing like the team that lost 47-17 three weeks ago at No. 8 Oklahoma, a loss that sent them tumbling from the Top 25. Instead, they have their first three-game winning streak since 2008, and "we're growing," coach Jimbo Fisher said.

"I think it's huge," he said. "We learned to go on the road. ... If you're going to win conference titles, you're going to have to win in somebody else's house."

It helps that his defense comes along.

The Seminoles (4-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) outgained Virginia 294-42 in the first half, stretching to eight its string of quarters in which they didn't allow a point. They also added to their nation-leading sacks total with six more, giving them 28 for the season.

It was evident quickly that Virginia quarterback Marc Verica was thinking about the rush, Seminoles defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. He was one of six players with a sack.

"He was trying to get out of there," Dawkins said of Verica, who connected on only four of 15 first-half passes. "The tackles and guards were cutting us trying to keep us out."

It worked just like the Seminoles drew it up, Fisher said.

"When you get hit early in the game, it does put that little bird in the back of your head that says, 'Here they come,'" he said, his voice hoarse and almost gone entirely.

Christian Ponder took a back seat to the defense and Thomas's running, but still hit on 17 of 29 passes for 172 yards. He hit Willie Haulstead with a 15-yard touchdown pass.

"We were hungry and knew we had to make a statement on the road," he said.

Virginia (2-2, 0-1), which had beaten FCS schools Richmond and VMI and played well in a 17-14 loss at Southern Cal, viewed the game as a chance to see where it stands four games into the Mike London era, and many of the Cavaliers fans left after seeing the answer.

"We learned a lot of lessons today," first-year coach Mike London said.

Like starting fast.

"They caught us off guard in the beginning of the game and we were just not able to bounce back," tight end Colter Phillips said. "That is something we have to work on."

Virginia gave its fans some hope in the third quarter when the defense forced Florida State to punt and Verica hit Kris Burd for a 76-yard touchdown. The defense again held and Virginia drove to the Seminoles' 30, but Greg Reid intercepted Verica in the end zone.

Reid had another interception deep in Seminoles territory in the final quarter.

Verica was 14 for 30 for 211 yards. He was replaced by Ross Metheny in the final quarter, and Metheny led a 70-play drive to his 11-yard TD pass to Colter Phillips with 1:39 left.

Florida State, unranked for just the second time in 16 meetings with Virginia, looked every bit like one of those top teams of years past in the first half.

After Ponder was hit and fumbled on the opening play, with Thomas recovering, Ponder drove his team to the Virginia 19, where Dustin Hopkins' 37-yard field goal made it 3-0.

The Seminoles' next three possessions ended in touchdowns, often because Ponder made plays to keep the drives going. He hit Beau Reliford for 16 yards on a third-and-4, and Haulstead for the TD on a third-and-8. He also ran 12 yards on third-and-11 in a later drive.