Huskies fall short in Orange Bowl, 31-10


Senior wide receiver Martel Moore (1) dives and scores during Tuesday’s Orange Bowl game against FSU.

By Matt Hopkinson

In a game where NIU had a lot of the breaks go its way, it still could not muster up enough to pull out a victory over the Florida State Seminoles.

The crucial play of the game came in the third quarter. After scoring a touchdown on a connection between junior quarterback Jordan Lynch and senior receiver Martel Moore, the Huskies successfully recovered an onside kick just 3 yards away from midfield on a huge call by coach Rod Carey.

NIU began to march downfield against the No. 3-ranked defense, but Lynch’s decision making foiled the comeback attempt when he was flushed from the pocket on third down, and instead of running the ball as per usual, he tried to force a ball to junior receiver Jamison Wells. The only problem was that Terrence Brooks was waiting with open arms as Lynch threw the ball right to him for an interception.

“I was trying to throw it low and away; I missed it inside,” Lynch said. “Whoever picked it made a nice play. I should have realized it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to force a ball there, just take the three points, and we still would have been in the game. But I forced a turnover and they ended up capitalizing on that position.”

After trading punts following the interception, Florida State continued to build momentum, again on a poor decision made by an NIU player. Facing a third down situation, senior FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel pitched the ball out of the option to receiver Kenny Shaw. After Shaw was already forced out of bounds, sophomore linebacker Jamaal Bass ran up and shoved Shaw into the FSU players on the sidelines, giving the Seminoles 15 yards and an automatic first down.

The foul allowed the Seminoles to march the rest of the way, capping the scoring drive with two back to back runs by Manuel, culminating in a 9-yard touchdown run.

From that point on it was all Florida State, as they went on to score another touchdown. NIU fumbled on its possession on a reverse run for sophomore receiver Da’Ron Brown. Brown fumbled at NIU’s 42-yard line and the Seminoles needed just two plays to convert its fourth touchdown of the game on a 13-yard run by Lonnie Pryor.

Pryor had a career day as he rushed just four times on the night, but burned the Huskie defense for 130 yards and two touchdowns, including the first touchdown of the game with a 60-yarder. That run was the longest given up by the NIU defense since 2009. It also marked the third straight year the first score of the Orange Bowl was on a 60-plus-yard run, done by Jeremy Stewart of Stanford in 2011 and by Andre Ellington of Clemson in 2012. Pryor earned the Orange Bowl MVP honors for his performance.

“I couldn’t do it without my team and coach Jimbo [Fisher] believing in me, giving me the ball,” Pryor said. “It’s a blessing. This whole offensive line doing a great job. I always wanted to have a big game in my last game at Florida State.”

The game was billed as the offense of NIU versus the defense of FSU heading in, but the high-scoring Huskies succumbed to the Seminole pressure and tallied just 257 yards. The Seminoles, meanwhile, posted more than 500 total yards led by Manuel, who capped his time as a Seminole with a victory in the current roster’s first BCS appearance.

“Good or bad, I’m just happy for my team,” Manuel said. “We won a BCS title game, it doesn’t get any better than that. Won 12 games, won all my bowl games, biggest thing we wanted to leave a legacy…change the culture of what we do here. It wasn’t an overnight process, but you’re reaping the benefits right now. That’s why you’re here, that’s why we won this game.”

With all the build-up of NIU falling on the shoulders of Lynch, he had one of his worst games of the season in nearly every category, as he threw for a paltry 14-37 and 160 yards, his lowest total since Iowa, and managed just 58 rushing yards on 21 attempts, his lowest rushing total of the season.

Not for a lack of trying, Carey drew up a fake-punt for sophomore tight end Desroy Maxwell on the third drive of the game for NIU near the end of the first quarter, but NIU’s offense could only manage a Mathew Sims field goal that put it within four at 7-3 at the time.

Despite the “play to win” ingenuity that saw the Huskies convert their third fake-punt of the season and successfully convert an onside kick, Carey only called junior running back Akeem Daniels’ number three times to actually run the ball, whereas he tried Lynch 23 times for an end result of 44 yards. Daniels had the most total yards of any NIU player with 67 in the passing game, including a huge 55-yard catch that set up its only touchdown, as well as running for 15 yards.

“We didn’t execute, and they did,” Carey said. “Give them a lot of credit. We knew coming in that Florida State was a good football team. Everything was a little bit off, that’s how it is sometimes. I’m proud of our kids…We’re disappointed here today, but we set a school record in wins. It’s a good season.”

The Huskies had their moment in the sun, and their moments at Sun Life stadium, but the door slammed close on their fingers in their attempt to pry open the sealed entrance to the BCS suite.