tampabay.com

Sweet century in Ponton's return

By MIKE CAMUNAS
Published October 15, 2006


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - It was a game of many happy returns. Well, three at least.

Defensive end Josh Julmiste, receiver Jackie Chambers and running back Ricky Ponton all made season debuts after a six-game suspension for violation of team rules.

But of the three, one player made the most impact in the Bulls' 37-20 win against North Carolina.

It was Ponton, the 5-foot-10 Hillsborough High graduate who was to be the successor to running back Andre Hall this season. Saturday, the sophomore was the game's leading rusher with 101 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.

"You can see there was some energy there," coach Jim Leavitt said. "You can see he's a pretty good running back. Really helped us. I didn't have any high expectations on any of them."

Leavitt did not make the three players available after the game.

Quarterback Matt Grothe, the team's leading rusher, said having Ponton back changed the offense.

"(Having him back is) big," said Grothe, who rushed 12 times. "Either me or (running back) Benny (Williams) get the ball and then Ricky comes in and averages about 6 yards a carry. That's really good."

Ponton had two short rushing scores, 1 yard then 2. On USF's third drive in the first quarter, Ponton had his first carry of the season. On that drive, which was capped by Taurus Johnson's reverse run for a touchdown, Ponton had three carries for 26 yards, and all for first downs.

Players, especially Ponton's offensive line, were happy with his return.

"It was meaningful," senior tackle Thed Watson said. "Ricky is another shifty back. Ricky has a lot of experience from playing last year. We're comfortable when he's in the backfield."

Ponton entered the game as backup to Williams, who still saw his fair share of action. The fellow sophomore had 14 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown.

"The offense got a big boost; it could be a powerful force," Williams said. "It's a competition with us, but it felt good having him back. It made us feel more whole."

Receiver Amarri Jackson said he realized the potential of having Ponton back.

"Ricky and Jackie coming back to the offense just adds fuel to the fire," Jackson said. "People make mistakes in life. We all make mistakes. Nobody's perfect. We're just happy to have them back because right now we don't remember the past."