By: Wells Dusenbury
When Northern Illinois took the field Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl, they were out to prove all the doubters and skeptics wrong.
After the announcement was made a month ago that the MAC Champion would be taking on Florida State in the Orange Bowl, vitriol poured in over the fact NIU was chosen over what many deemed to be more worthy teams.
Despite the fact Northern Illinois clinched an automatic berth by finishing in the top 16 of the BCS standings as a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference, people used the Huskies as a whipping boy for all the problems they felt were inherent with the much-maligned BCS format.
Minutes after the announcement, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit blasted the Huskies' inclusion, declaring it was a "joke" NIU would be playing in a BCS game over "teams that are more deserving."
So after a month of hearing they didn't belong, the Huskies wanted to silence all critics who deemed they weren't worthy.
Was Northern Illinois successful?
If you go by the final score, a 31-10 defeat at the hands of the Seminoles, the answer is no. If you ask Huskies' wideout and former Dwyer standout Tommylee Lewis, the answer is different.
What did Lewis think NIU proved in the Orange Bowl?
"That we can play with anybody," said Lewis. "That's what we came to show. That we can play with anybody and I'm sure we showed that even though the scoreboard may not say that."
The shifty five-foot-seven receiver, who had a breakout sophomore campaign as the team's second leading receiver, was the lone bright spot in what was an otherwise dismal offensive showing by Northern Illinois.
The Huskies' do-it-all sophomore caught five passes for 62 yards, including a 25-yarder to set up an early NIU field goal, rushed twice for nine yards, and returned three kickoffs for 63 yards.
Despite the lopsided final score, the Huskies competed with the Seminoles for much of the contest. After trailing 17-3 in the third quarter, NIU scored on an 11-yard touchdown to cut the lead to seven and then successfully recovered an onside kick, giving fans hope that MACtion would take over in South Beach.
The momentum was short-lived though as a Jordan Lynch interception deep in Florida State territory killed a potential game-tying drive. More miscues, including another turnover, helped propel Florida State to a pair of touchdowns that would put the game on ice.
"They pulled away, in what the 3rd quarter or something like that," Lewis said. "It was a close game throughout the majority of the game and they just ended up pulling away."
"We came out and played hard. FSU was just a better team today."
"We just left some plays out on the field and they capitalized."
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