CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – They’re back: the three players who were serving six-game suspensions for violation of team rules were finally able to play.
Defensive end Josh Julmiste, receiver Jackie Chambers and running back Ricky Ponton all made their season debuts in Saturday’s 37-20 win against North Carolina.
Most noticed. The fans did, because they high-fived the trio.
Their fellow players noticed that they weren’t wearing street clothes and were in their jerseys.
But there was one player who stood out and literally ran away with the game.
It was Ponton, the 5-foot-10 sophomore who was the immediate successor to running back Andre Hall this season. Saturday, Ponton had a career game and turned out to be the game’s leading rusher with 101 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.
Julmiste and Chambers also played their fair share. Julmiste had two tackles on defense, and Chambers had a punt return for just 1 yard.
“You can see there was some energy there,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “You can see (Ponton is) a pretty good running back. Really helped us. I didn’t have any high expectations on any of them.”
Leavitt, however, declined to make the three players available for comment.
Quarterback Matt Grothe, who is the team’s leading rusher, said having Ponton back on offense changed the way things are run.
“(Having him back is) big,” said Grothe, who rushed the ball 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, whose two rushing scores were 1- and 2-yard runs, helped the Bulls out the most on USF’s third drive in the first quarter. It was when Ponton saw his first carry of the season, and on the drive he had three carries for 26 yards, all resulting in first downs.
The Bulls finished the drive with a Taurus Johnson reverse as he scampered and dove into the end zone to tie the game at 7. It was Johnson’s second rushing touchdown of the season.
The offensive line was especially happy with Ponton’s return.
“It was meaningful (to have him back),” 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 had just as many carries. 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.”
The players are just happy to have the three back. They’re glad to see them smile at the end of the game, and receiver Amarri Jackson said he realized the potential of the offense.
He adds, though, that there haven’t been any hard feelings.
“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.”