Lynch, the proclaimed “tough kid from the South Side of Chicago,” hoped to will himself and his NIU teammates to an upset win.
“It’s too raw right now for me to summarize this game,” NIU coach Rod 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.
“Everything was a little bit off offensively. That’s how it is sometimes. But give Florida State them all the credit. They played a great game.”
Lynch struggled to get anything going in the first half, though he did better in the second. In the first, he completed just 4 of 15 passes for 52 yards. He rushed 12 times for 24 yards as Florida State led 14-3.
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.
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.
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 as Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes forced a De’Ron Brown fumble at the NIU 42. Two plays later, Prior scored from 37 yards out to make it 31-10.
Highly charged rhetoric marked the buildup to this “David vs. Goliath” contest. ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit ignited the flame when he ranted that the Huskies did not deserve to play in a BCS bowl and labeled their invitation “a joke.”
Last week, Lynch was quoted as saying the Huskies would run the Seminoles “in the ground” with their up-tempo offense. On Tuesday, there was a report that an Orange Bowl official told an NIU official that “we didn’t even want you here” during a late-night social event.
“The chip on the shoulder has been kind of part of the culture of our team anyway. We have a saying: ‘The hard way.’” NIU athletic director Jeff Compher said as he pointed to those words inscribed on the back of his NIU cap. “It’s just part of the personality of this program in a lot of ways.”