SAN DIEGO — Safety Brian Suite intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble by Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch to help Utah State beat No. 24 Northern Illinois 21-14 on Thursday night in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Joey DeMartino, who went to high school and junior college in San Diego, carried 23 times for 143 yards and a touchdown for Utah State (9-5). He was the offensive MVP.
Lynch, who was third in the Heisman Trophy voting and made The Associated Press All-America team as an all-purpose player, had a rough end to his college career. Besides the two turnovers, he was held to just 39 yards rushing, keeping him from becoming the first major college player to rush for 2,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season.
He extended his extended his major college record for yards rushing for a quarterback in a season to 1,920. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 216 yards.
Lynch ran for a touchdown and passed for another for NIU (12-2), which ended the season with two straight losses.
Lynch's pass was intercepted on the first play of the third quarter by Suite, setting up a go-ahead, 5-yard touchdown pass from Darrel Garretson to Brandon Swindall.
The Aggies put it away when DeMartino scored on a 1-yard TD run with 4:14 to go for a 21-7 lead. It capped a 16-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 7:19.
Lynch threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Juwan Brescacin with 1:44 left to pull NIU to 21-14. NIU tried an onside kicked that USU recovered.
There were four turnovers and three missed field goals. The game drew only 23,408 to 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium, the lowest attendance in the bowl's nine-year history.
Suite also recovered Lynch's fumble in the first quarter.
The teams staggered through an unimpressive first half that included a missed field goal by each team, a shanked punt by NIU and a lost fumble by Lynch.
Lynch scored on a 1-yard run with 8:17 left in the second quarter to cap a 15-play, 78-yard drive and give NIU a 7-6 lead.
Lynch ended NIU's second possession by losing a fumble at midfield. Utah State responded with a 31-yard field goal by Nick Diaz.
NIU's Mathew Sims was wide right on a 37-yard field goal attempt and Utah State moved 58 yards in six plays — including Joey DeMartino's 58-yard reception — for Diaz's 39-yard field goal.