Terrence Brooks' eyes lit up when he realized what was happening.
Florida State's defensive line flushed Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch out of the pocket, and in the most pivotal moment of Tuesday's Orange Bowl, Lynch forced a third-and-8 throw he'll regret for a long time.
"I couldn't believe he threw it," said Brooks, an FSU junior safety. "I just stepped in front of my man and took it."
Brooks' interception killed upstart Northern Illinois's momentum in its first BCS bowl appearance and led FSU to a 31-10 victory in front of an FSU-friendly crowd at Sun Life Stadium.
Moments before the turnover, NIU scored a touchdown and recovered the ensuing onsides kick. The Huskies
were 23 yards away from tying a game that seemed far out of reach for the first 36 minutes of play.
"We knew we had to buckle down a little more, and we knew it was a turning point in the game," Brooks said. "Our defensive line was frustrating him and he wanted to make some plays happen. That's where we come in."
Florida State's front seven pressured the pocket all night, making Lynch, who ran for 1,771 and 19 touchdowns in NIU's 12-win season, throw 41 times.
As the engineer of an offense that ran the ball 65 percent of the time this season, Lynch tossed the most passes he's thrown in a game this season, something NIU coach Rod Carey said earlier this week he had no interest in doing.
FSU's secondary only made matters worse for NIU's top offensive weapon. Lynch rarely had an open receiver, and if he did, he didn't have much time to find them. He only completed 16 passes, and just missed throwing at least two other interceptions.
"Their defense is the best defense we've faced all year," Lynch said of FSU's ninth-ranked defense. "They got a few big plays on us, and any time you give up big plays against a team like Florida State, it's going to hurt you."
The Seminoles' offense, despite clearly possessing more speed and power than NIU's undersized defense, rang up 534 yards of total offense, but struggled to score while the game was still tight. But as the offense sputtered, FSU's defense repeatedly stifled NIU.
Brooks's interception gave FSU the final jumpstart it needed for the Seminoles to win the Orange Bowl for the first time in four tries at Sun Life.
"You know they say defense wins championships," FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "I think the defense held our own tonight. We got the offense back on their feet and we were able to pull away."
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