The tricks kept it close for a while.
I guess the loss was as respectable as losses can be, all things considered.
Underdog might be the most casually overused word in sports — most every game in every sport has one, after all — but not quite like this.
Not like we saw coming into this game.
You got the feeling the Huskies were playing for more than the good folks back home in DeKalb or the 6,000 or so fans who made a winter vacation of this trip.
They were playing for the little guys everywhere. Not just for the underdogs. For the teams told they don’t even belong on the same field. They were playing for anybody who has ever been laughed at or told, “You aren’t good enough.”
The Huskies spent an entire week being asked in various ways if they “belonged.” They could only have been more obviously cast in their role if the players had all carried slingshots as props.
Carey, the coach, had called NIU “a well-kept secret,” and said, “We’re trying to let people in on the secret.”
The fairy tale ending didn’t happen.
But if you’re asking now, after this game, whether Northern Illinois “belonged” on this stage, I’d say this. College-football TV analyst Kirk Herbstreit had said NIU making a BCS bowl was a “disgrace.” It could have been. It wasn’t quite.
But neither did it validate the MAC or Northern Illinois in a way that either hoped.
“We deserve to be here,” NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch had said.
And he’d said much more, Lynch had.
The kid had tiptoed that line between confident and cocky by saying of FSU, “They haven’t seen anything like our offense.”
Hmm. Lynch, his team’s double-threat star, completed 15 of 41 passes and managed 44 net rushing yards on 23 carries.
He’d also said of FSU, “In the fourth quarter, we plan to have them on their knees.”
Instead, in the fourth quarter, Lynch and his team were the ones struggling to get off of their knees. Struggling to make a game of it, and a name for themselves.