Orange Bowl | FSU 31, NIU 10

EJ Manuel, Lonnie Pryor lead Florida State Seminoles to Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois

 

FSU quarterback EJ Manuel led a balanced offense, and the Seminoles defense shut down Northern Illinois to win the Orange Bowl.

mnavarro@MiamiHerald.com

Jordan Lynch said he planned to have Florida State’s defense worn down and on its knees by the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s Discover Orange Bowl.

The Seminoles were hardly wheezing.

After what could best be described as a first half to forget, Northern Illinois’ dual-threat quarterback rallied the first Mid-American Conference champions to reach a BCS bowl game to within a touchdown in the third quarter.

But in the end, EJ Manuel, Lonnie Pryor and Florida State’s defense proved to be too much as the Seminoles made their first BCS Bowl appearance in seven years a good one by holding on for a 31-10 victory in front of 72,074 at Sun Life Stadium.

Manuel threw a touchdown pass before the half -- a 6-yarder to former St. Thomas Aquinas standout Rashad Greene -- and ran for another on the first play of the fourth quarter as the Seminoles (12-2), two-touchdown favorites coming in, completed just their third 12-win season in school history.

Pryor, who came in having run for only 242 yards during the season, posted a career-high 134 yards rushing on just five carries and scored on runs of 60 yards and 37 yards. He was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

“I’m just proud of the team and what we did,” Pryor said. “I’m just so happy. Shocked and happy.”

The Huskies, who came in having won 21 of its last 22 games and became the first one-loss school from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play in a BCS Bowl game, trailed 17-3 early in the third quarter and appeared headed toward a blowout loss before Lynch and the Huskies offense came to life.

On 3rd-and-15 from NIU’s 8-yard line, Lynch hit Akeem Daniels streaking down the Florida State sideline for a 55-yard gain. Two plays later, Lynch reeled off his longest run of the night-— a 22-yard scamper -- down to the FSU 11. On the next play, Lynch hit Martel Moore on a crossing route and he did the rest, diving into the end zone with 9:55 to play in the third quarter to make it 17-10.

Feeling a rush of momentum, NIU coach Rod Carey -- who took over for the departed Dave Doeren (N.C. State) -- called for an onside kick moments later and the Huskies’ recovered. Cornerback Paris Logan pounced on the bouncing ball without much of a fight at the NIU 47-yard line.

But after driving down to FSU 23-yard line, Lynch scrambled and flung a pass toward receiver Jamison Wells. FSU safety Terrence Brooks stepped in front of the pass and returned the interception 20 yards.

It was his third career interception and second in a bowl game. Last year, Brooks had an interception in the end zone to seal FSU’s win over Notre Dame.

Lynch, who became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 3,000 yards and run for 1,500 yards in the same season, was held to just 44 yards on the ground on 23 attempts. He finished 15 of 41 passing for 176 yards and a touchdown.

Trailing 24-10 in the fourth quarter after Manuel’s nine-yard TD run, NIU (12-2) still had life. But two plays after converting a 4th-and-1 at the FSU 39, Lynch handed the ball to Da’Ron Brown on a reverse. He was hit in the backfield by FSU’s Xavier Rhodes, who forced a fumble and recovered it at the NIU 42.

Two plays later, Pryor sprinted untouched toward the end zone with the game-sealing score, a 37-yard scamper.

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

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