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NIU can't keep pace with Florida State in Orange Bowl

By Fred Mitchell, Chicago Tribune reporter

1:54 AM EST, January 2, 2013

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It wasn't a lost cause, but a loss on the field for Northern Illinois, which crashed the Orange Bowl party as unwanted guests from the Mid-American Conference and fell Tuesday night to favored Florida State 31-10.

Jordan Lynch, the proclaimed "tough kid from the South Side of Chicago," hoped to will himself and his NIU teammates to an upset victory before the crowd of 72,073 at Sun Life Stadium.

But Lynch struggled to get anything going consistently and wound up completing just 15 of 41 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted once. He also carried the ball for an Orange Bowl quarterback-record 23 times but gained just 44 yards.

"Yeah, it got frustrating at times," Lynch said. "We tried to keep our composure and we had a lot of good stuff. We didn't execute at times. Myself, I missed a lot of throws out there that would have helped our O-line out. There's a reason they're a top-five defense in the nation. All the respect goes to them."

Rod Carey was notably upset after the loss as his first game as head coach snapped NIU's 12-game winning streak.

"It's too raw right now for me to summarize this game," Carey said. "I'm proud of our kids … 12-1 on the (regular) season. We're disappointed here, but we set a school record in wins. It's a good season."

Florida State fullback Lonnie Pryor was named Orange Bowl MVP after rushing for 134 yards on five carries. He scored touchdowns on runs of 60 and 37 yards.

Florida State led 14-3 at the half, but NIU pulled to within 17-10 going into the fourth quarter. After recovering an onside kick, NIU had the ball driving into Florida State territory in the third quarter when Terrence Brooks intercepted a Lynch pass and returned it 20 yards.

"I was trying to throw it low and away. I missed it inside," Lynch said. "(Brooks) made a nice play. I should have realized that it probably wasn't the smartest thing to force a ball there. Just take the three points (to make it 17-13), and we still would have been in the game. But I forced a turnover and they ended up capitalizing on that position."

The scoring began after Lynch punted 52 yards on fourth down from a shotgun formation to the Florida State 5-yard line.

One play later, James Wilder Jr. ran the ball to the 20 and then quarterback EJ Manuel hit Greg Dent for a 20-yard completion.

Pryor took the next handoff and darted 60 yards for a touchdown with 5 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter to give the Seminoles a 7-0 lead. The Florida State fullback never had had a run longer than 49 yards entering the Orange Bowl.

"They came out and did what we expected them to do," NIU senior defensive end Sean Progar said. "They ran a lot of stretch and power. They got a few big plays on us, and any time you give up big plays against a team like Florida State it's going to hurt you. They out-executed us at certain times. That was the biggest thing."

Mathew Sims booted a 25-yard field goal to pull NIU within 7-3 late in the first quarter. The score was set up by a fake punt on fourth down when a short snap from center went to freshman Desroy Maxwell, who ran 35 yards to the Seminoles' 33.

"Yeah, play to win," Carey said of the trick plays. "That's what you have to do. We were playing to win, and we saw some things. We knew we had it."

Florida State scored again with 11 seconds left in the half on a 6-yard Manuel strike to Rashad Greene that capped a 10-play, 82-yard drive to take a 14-3 lead.

The Seminoles took the second-half kickoff and drove 68 yards on nine plays before Dustin Hopkins added a 25-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-3.

NIU pulled to within 17-10 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Lynch to Martel Moore in the third quarter that culminated a six-play, 87-yard drive. The big plays were a 55-yard pass from Lynch to Akeem Daniels and a 22-yard Lynch run.

The Huskies' Paris Logan then recovered Tyler Wedel's onside kick, but Lynch turned the ball over on an interception in Florida State territory.

Florida State all but put the game away with an eight-play, 61-yard drive that ended when Manuel rushed for a touchdown four seconds into the final quarter for a 24-10 lead.

Northern Illinois coughed it up on the next possession. Two plays later, Pryor scored from 37 yards out to make it 31-10.

"Our seniors left us with a 12-2 finish, tying the school record, a Top 10 finish in the BCS, and a victory in a BCS bowl game," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They also left us with momentum going forward."

fmitchell@tribune.com

Twitter @kicker34