MIAMI GARDENS - Big yardage wasn't leading to early scores for Florida State, which allowed its BCS busting opponent to hang around for a while.
That all changed in the fourth quarter.
The Seminoles regrouped behind fullback Lonnie Pryor's big night, rolling in the second half to top MAC Champion Northern Illinois 31-10 at Sun Life Stadium on Monday night.
The win was the Seminoles' first BCS victory since the 2000 Sugar Bowl and it gave the Seminoles a school record-tying 12 wins for the first time since the 1999 season.
Outside of a Pryor 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, FSU faltered early, punting three times and missing a field goal in the first half while grasping to a mere 7-3 lead late in the second quarter despite outgaining the Huskies (12-2) handily. Still, the Seminoles were able tack on a touchdown just before halftime to stretch its lead to 14-3.
Coach Jimbo Fisher felt that the Seminoles left points on the field, but that they were able to come through when it counted.
"We still felt good, we just knew we had to come out though and get points immediately (in the second half), which we did," Fisher said.
FSU added a field goal to start the second half, but the Huskies came roaring back. NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch led the Huskies on a six-play, 92 yard scoring drive to cut the deficit to 17-10. The Huskies caught Florida State off guard with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but safety Terrence Brooks came through and intercepted an errant Lynch pass to squelch the scoring attempt.
"They (NIU) did a great job hitting a big play scoring and getting an onside kick," Fisher said. "Then we got the interception and got it back and got some points in the fourth quarter. We left some (points) out there, but Northern Illinois, the guys are ranked 15th, they won 21 of 22 ballgames."
The 'Noles did indeed score points in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns and finally put the game out of reach. Quarterback EJ Manuel scored on the first play of the fourth quarter from nine yards out, then Pryor put a lid on the game with a 37-yard scoring run to make it 31-10.
Pryor was named MVP thanks to a 134-yard rushing performance on just five carries. The senior scored two touchdowns, including the first of the game on a dynamic 60-yard run down the sideline.
"The whole time when I was running I always talked to myself, I was just telling myself no, no, no, in other words, not to let that guy catch me," Pryor said. "But it felt good, first 100-yard rushing game, just felt good to go out with a bang."
Quarterback EJ Manuel went out with a bang, as well, going 26-for-38 for 291 yards. He threw for a touchdown and also ran in a touchdown. He finished the game without any turnovers and rushed for 28 yards. Manuel will finish his collegiate career with a 4-0 bowl record and as the head of an offense this season that was the most productive in school history.
"EJ is the epitome of what you want in a player, in a leader, in a person, in a student," Fisher said. "If my two boys grow up to be like him I'll be the proudest daddy in the world."
The Seminoles' defense contained NIU's Lynch throughout the game, holding a usually prolific playmaker who ammassed 43 touchdowns this season to 176 yards passing on a 15-of-41 passing performance. Lynch rushed for more than 1,700 yards this season, but was only able to muster up 44 yards on 23 carries.
"It was a physical game, but we wanted to make it a physical game," linebacker Vince Williams, who led the team with 10 tackles, said. "We wanted to make every game we play in a physical game."