An onside kick fooled them, as did a fake punt, and a pooch punt by Northern Illinois' star quarterback.
But the final score was no surprise. Florida State had too much speed and depth for the Huskies and pulled away for a 31-10 victory Tuesday night.
Senior fullback Lonnie Pryor, voted the game's outstanding player, ran for a career-high 134 yards and two scores in only five carries. Senior EJ Manuel threw for 291 yards, while the Seminoles stuffed Huskies' QB and all-purpose threat Jordan Lynch for most of the night.
"I'm glad I'm a Nole, and I'm glad the seniors went out with a bang," Pryor said. "I always wanted to be MVP of a bowl, and I told myself that every time I get the ball, to try to make a big play."
The victory was a consolation prize for the No. 13 Seminoles (12-2), who began the season with national championship hopes. They've won five consecutive bowl games, but the victory was their first in a BCS bowl since 2000, when they beat Virginia Tech for the national title.
After the game, the Seminoles wore T-shirts that read, "Florida Statement."
"It's not the national championship, but right below," defensive end Bjoern Werner said. "Not a lot of teams can say that."
For 16th-ranked Northern Illinois (12-2), playing in a BCS bowl for the first time, the defeat snapped a 12-game winning streak. The Huskies came in as two-touchdown underdogs and fell to 5-28 against top 25 teams.
"We knew that they were going to play us tough," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "But our kids, it's another step in which we handled the big platform, and I'm very proud of them."
Pryor scored the first touchdown on a career-long 60-yard run, then ran 37 yards for a clinching touchdown with 10 minutes left. They were the two longest rushes allowed by Northern Illinois all season.
Manuel went 26 for 38, threw for one score and ran for another.
"We just kept playing," he said. "Now we're going to enjoy ourselves."
The Huskies were widely derided as unworthy of a BCS bowl berth, and didn't do enough to silence the doubters. They were outgained 534 yards to 259.
The trick plays in the kicking game helped keep the Huskies close until the fourth quarter, but when it came to Lynch, not much fooled a Florida State defense ranked second in the nation. And the Huskies' last attempt at razzle-dazzle backfired when receiver Da'Ron Brown lost a fumble on an end around at midfield, setting up the Seminoles' final touchdown.
"Definitely the best defense we played all year," Lynch said. "They were always in the right spot at the right time, it seemed like. They were hungry out there."
Lynch came into the game leading the nation in rushing and total offense, and he threw or ran on nearly every play for the Huskies. But he completed only 15 of 41 attempts for 176 yards, and carried 23 times for 44 yards.
The junior became the first player in NCAA history to surpass 3,000 yards passing and 1,500 rushing in a season.
After the Huskies' lone touchdown cut their deficit to 17-10 in the third quarter, they recovered an onside kick, and Lynch moved them to the Florida State 23. But he was flushed from the pocket on third down and threw an ill-advised pass that Terrence Brooks intercepted.
"It probably wasn't the smartest thing to force the ball there," Lynch said.
The loss was Rod Carey's debut as the Huskies' coach. He was promoted to replace Dave Doeren, who took the North Carolina State job after the regular season.
"I'm upset," Carey said. "Florida State is a well-oiled machine. They beat us, no doubt. That doesn't change the fact I don't like to lose."
Doeren watched the game from the stands.
When Florida State dropped no one deep defending an early fourth-and-1 situation, Lynch pooched a 52-yard punt that rolled dead at the 5. The poor field position didn't faze the Seminoles, who scored in four plays, the last when Pryor broke into the clear near midfield and outran the Huskies' secondary.
With the Seminoles up only 7-3, Manuel moved them 82 yards in the final 3:57 of the first half for another touchdown with 11 seconds left. He threw on the move for a 6-yard score to Rashad Greene, who managed to get one foot inbounds before he tumbled out of the end zone.
Desroy Maxwell took a short snap on a fake punt on fourth and 3 and ran 35 yards to set up a field goal for the Huskies' first score.
"You've got to play to win," Carey said of the trick plays. "We saw some things. We knew we had it. Gosh darn, our kids executed it."
But his team's offense struggled to sustain anything. Lynch passed, ran or punted on 28 of 29 plays for Northern Illinois' offense in the first half, and the Seminoles were geared to stop him.
He finally got the Huskies going in the third quarter, when they mounted an 87-yard touchdown drive. He threw deep to Akeem Daniels for 55 yards, then hit Martel Moore for an 11-yard score.
That was it for Northern Illinois, though. This was the Seminoles' night.
"We wanted to leave a legacy and change the culture in what we do here," said Manuel, who became only the second quarterback to go 4-0 in bowl games, joining West Virginia's Pat White. "You're reaping the benefits right now."
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