Seminoles too much for Huskies

By Brian Earle

On the biggest stage NIU football has ever played on, the bright lights of the Orange Bowl proved to be too much in its matchup against Florida State on New Year’s Day.

The Huskies played the Seminoles close for three quarters, but the 31-10 Florida State victory would indicate otherwise. With the Florida State victory, the Huskies Cinderella run struck midnight and the MAC Champions saw their 12-game winning streak come to an end.

With the Huskies trying to earn the nation’s respect, proving they are a BCS quality team, the Seminoles showed them why they were a preseason pick to win the BCS national championship and were crowned ACC Champions.

On the Seminoles’ second drive of the game, their offense sent a message to the Huskies defensively on an impressive four-play 95-yard touchdown drive.

The scoring drive was capped by an unlikely player in tailback Lonnie Pryor. Pryor found a huge hole in the Huskies’ defense and made them pay, taking it to the house for a 60-yard touchdown run. This was only the beginning for Pryor.

For the Huskies, the 60-yard touchdown run was the longest they had allowed since 2009.

The Huskies would answer on the ensuing drive with a trick up their sleeve. On fourth and three from their own 32-yard line, the Huskies ran a fake punt. Tight end Desroy Maxwell took a direct snap and ran for a 35-yard gain and the first down.

NIU would conclude its drive with a 25-yard field goal by kicker Mathew Sims to make the score 7-3.

In the second quarter, the Huskies caught a break when usually reliable kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a 50-yard field goal attempt. Hopkins had previously been five for five on field goal attempts from 50 yards or more.

However, the Huskies could not capitalize as their offense struggled to produce any type of rhythm. The Seminoles defense forced the Huskies to go three-and-out three different times in the quarter and held them to 24 total yards.

With time winding down in the first half, the Seminoles increased their lead to 14-3 on a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback E.J. Manuel to receiver Rashad Greene in the back corner of the end zone.

Coming out of halftime, the Huskies tweaked their game plan and looked like a different team than the one that played in the first half.

“[The] kids got their feet under them,” said NIU coach Rod Carey. “We made some adjustments. We had to. We didn’t do anything first half offensively. You know, just let our play makers make plays, and that’s what got us back in the game. We had a chance.”

While the Seminoles increased their lead to 17-3 on a Hopkins 25-yard field goal to begin the half, the Huskies’ offense responded in a way they hadn’t all game.

Facing a third and 15, quarterback Jordan Lynch connected with running back Akeem Daniels for a 55-yard pass, deep, down the sideline. Lynch would then run for 22 yards before throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Martel Moore. The Huskies closed the gap and were down a touchdown, 17-10.

On the kickoff, the Huskies pulled a rabbit out of their hat and caught Florida State napping when cornerback Paris Logan recovered kickoff specialist’s Tyler Wedel’s onside kick.

“[You] play to win, you know, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Carey said. “I think it fits. Coach Fitzgerald up at Northwestern said it about three or four years ago, he got all that criticism over that fake field goal in double overtime. He was playing to win. We’re playing to win, and we saw some things, we knew we had it, and gosh darn it, kids executed it, and we were right there to do it.”

Despite capturing all the momentum and having a chance to tie the game, on third and eight, Lynch was picked off by safety Terrence Brooks, which seemingly secured the victory for Florida State.

“At first I was on my man and I kind of let him go to give him a little space so the quarterback would think about throwing to him,” Brooks said. “I couldn’t believe he threw it, but I just stepped in front of him and picked it.”

After the interception by Lynch, it was all Seminoles from there on out. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Manuel scored on a 9-yard touchdown run to make the score 24-10. Manuel finished the game with 291 passing yards and one touchdown while adding 26 yards on the ground with another touchdown.

“EJ is the epitome of what you want in a player, in a leader, in a person, in a student,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. “… He represents what’s right about everything, and for a guy who’s accomplished 26-6, four bowl games, takes Florida State back to the top 10, 12 wins, I mean, I don’t know what else the guy can do and all he does is sit and smile and represent this organization with the most class and dignity that I’ve been around.”

Pryor capped the scoring for the Seminoles with a 37-yard touchdown run with 10:33 remaining in the game, making the score 31-10. Pryor finished the game with two touchdowns and 134 yards rushing on five carries. This was Pryor’s first 100-yard rushing game and for his performance, he was named MVP of the Orange Bowl.

“I always wanted to win MVP of a bowl game and I told myself every time I get the ball, just try and make a big play and just do something,” Pryor said. “I was blessed today. I can’t believe it.”

While all the focus was on NIU’s offense in this game, it was FSU’s offense that lit up the scoreboard on New Year’s Day. The Seminoles posted more than 500 yards of total offense in the game which set the single-season record for total yards by the Seminoles in school-history.

Meanwhile, the Huskies recorded 259 total yards of offense, recorded a season low 83 rushing yards and scored their lowest point total since 2010.

“I thought the defense played real well. Like I said, we was prepared for it,” said FSU linebacker Christian Jones. “We had a long time to prepare for it, and we knew they had a good quarterback in Jordan Lynch and I thought we did a good job of holding him to what his usual stats are.”