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NIU makes Florida State work for 31-10 Orange Bowl win

Northern Illinois defensive end Joe Windsor (97) looks up during second half Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against FloridState

Northern Illinois defensive end Joe Windsor (97) looks up during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Florida State, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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Updated: January 2, 2013 12:59AM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — And the rants go on . . .

BCS executive director Bill Hancock strongly disagreed with the anti-NIU sentiment that has surrounded Northern Illinois’ historic trip to the Orange Bowl.

‘‘They absolutely deserve to be here,’’ Hancock told the Sun-Times on Monday. ‘‘Everybody knew what the rules were. When I met with the Mid-American Conference athletic directors two years ago, I said, ‘You are this close to getting in the BCS.’ Some of them looked at me like I was crazy. But I meant it because I knew it was true. Just like Jimbo [Fisher, the Florida State coach] said, they can play.’’

The Huskies (12-2) managed to hang around for three quarters with some crafty maneuvers. But in the end, Florida State (12-2) used its speed, size and muscle to defeat them 31-10 on Tuesday night. The loss ended NIU’s 12-game winning streak, tied for the longest in the nation with Notre Dame and Ohio State.

‘‘It’s too raw right now for me to summarize the game,’’ Rod Carey said after his first game as a head coach. ‘‘I’m proud of our kids . . . 12-1 on the season. We’re disappointed, but we set a school record in wins. It’s a good season.’’

The controversy about whether NIU belonged escalated when reported before the game that an Orange Bowl official told an NIU representative, ‘‘You guys don’t even deserve to be here. We didn’t even want you here.’’

The exchange took place at a hospitality suite a few nights ago, the website reported.

NIU spokesmen declined comment, saying they were unaware of the exchange. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the school didn’t want to make an awkward situation any more uncomfortable.

NIU didn’t look comfortable on the field in the first half at Sun Life Stadium, either. But Florida State had a lot to do with that.

‘‘Everything was a little bit off,’’ Carey said. ‘‘But that’s how it is sometimes. They played a great game.’’

Despite being outgained 328 yards to 110 in the first half, NIU only trailed 14-3 at halftime. And Florida State needed a six-yard TD catch by Rashad Green with 11 seconds left in the half to open its two-possession lead.

NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who set a major-college single-season rushing record for quarterbacks this fall, was held to 24 yards on 12 carries in the first half. The junior from Mount Carmel also struggled passing. He completed 4 of 15 for 52 yards against a formidable defense that keyed on him.

When Florida State made a field goal for a 17-3 lead at the start of the third quarter, it seemed poised to take command. But Northern responded with an 87-yard scoring drive. A 55-yard catch by Akeem Daniels started the breakout. Lynch then scrambled for 22 yards and followed with an 11-yard TD pass to Martel Moore that cut the Seminoles’ lead to 17-10.

Lynch, who was averaging 136.2 rushing yards, finished with 44 yards on 23 carries. He passed for 176 yards, completing 15 of 41 with one TD and one interception.

On the ensuing kickoff, Carey boldly called an onside kickoff. When Paris Logan recovered, the Huskies had seized the momentum, and Carey looked like a very sharp rookie coach.

The Huskies lost the momentum when Lynch threw an ill-advised interception. But they remained in striking distance, down 17-10.

‘‘It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to force it there,’’ Lynch said. ‘‘Just take the three points. But that’s the best defense we played all year. They were hungry out there. They got after it. All the respect goes to them.’’

Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel gave the Seminoles a 24-10 cushion with a nine-yard scoring run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Manuel passed for 291 yards and one touchdown.

Florida State went ahead 31-10 on a 37-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Lonnie Pryor, who ran for a career-high 130 yards on four carries, including two TDs. Pryor was named most outstanding player of the game.

The official announced attendance was 72,073 at 78,000-seat Sun Life Stadium. But there were probably no more than 50,000 to 55,000 at the game.

Beyond the onside kick, NIU also pulled off a fake punt in the first quarter that set up a field goal. In the end, trickery wasn’t enough.

From the moment the Huskies got an automatic BCS bowl berth, they were the subject of scorn. ESPN/ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit called NIU’s selection ‘‘a joke,’’ adding, ‘‘Thank goodness we’re moving to a new system in 2014.’’

Despite Herbstreit’s rant, the top-rated non-AQ team will play in a top-tier bowl when the four-team playoff system debuts in 2014.

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