Delaware falls to defending FCS champions North Dakota State
The Blue Hens faced their toughest opponent thus far this past Saturday, as they took on the NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision’s No. 1 ranked team, North Dakota State. The day started out about as perfectly as it could for UD. The Hens forced a three-and-out, and then promptly blocked an NDSU punt attempt that resulted in a safety. This early statement seemed to give Delaware some momentum that they could carry throughout the game. However, this momentum was short-lived.
On Delaware’s first offensive possession of the game, quarterback Pat Kehoe threw an interception that put NDSU in good field position, and they managed to punch it in from the goal line after a short drive. A big kickoff return later in the first quarter put Delaware in field goal position, and for a moment it appeared that Delaware would be able keep pace with North Dakota State. But the Blue Hens had to settle for a field goal, and were unable to score again for the rest of the first half. After an explosive second quarter from North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, paired with three consecutive Delaware drives that ended in punts, the Blue Hens saw themselves down 27-5 at the half.
After the game, Head Coach Danny Rocco expressed his frustrations with the first half.
“[We] put our defense out there an awful lot in the first half, kinda hung them out to dry … really nothing to speak of in the first half [offensively],” Rocco said.
The second half was a different story, but the ending was the same. The Blue Hens managed to score twice through redshirt-sophomore quarterback Nolan Henderson, but in the end were unable to overcome the deficit that North Dakota State created in the first half as they continued to add to their tally. The Bison attacked through their run game for the majority of the second half, milking time off the clock and wearing down the Blue Hen defense with each play.
“At the very end, their ability to wear us down with that run game was really disappointing to me,” Rocco said. When it was all said and done, the Bison managed to wear down the Blue Hens, and the game ended 47-22 in favor of North Dakota State.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Blue Hens. Backup quarterback Nolan Henderson was given an opportunity in the second half, and managed to throw for 125 yards and two touchdowns and added another 18 on the ground, including a 44-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior receiver Chichi Amachi. Henderson saw the field in the second half because of his knack for “avoiding the rush, extending some plays and being able to maybe make a play or two with his legs,” Rocco said.
NDSU was able to prevent Delaware from making any offensive progress in the first half because they put tremendous pressure on Kehoe, who struggled to get his passing attempts off with success.
“The uncertainty of having a firm pocket creates a conflict for any QB,” Rocco said. “When you’re not able to evade the rush as easily it becomes problematic … but he’s gotta get the ball out.”
While Kehoe struggled with a tight pocket and little time to throw, Henderson was able to use his legs to create opportunities and evade incoming defenders. Another bright spot was running back Will Knight, who added some much-needed explosiveness in Delaware’s running attack during the second half. Knight finished the game with eight carries for 115 yards, and also led the team in receiving yards with 46 yards on three receptions. Henderson and Knight, both of whom saw tremendous high school success together at nearby Smyrna High School, were able to keep the Delaware faithful energized despite the score.
Rocco spoke highly of North Dakota State after the game and was able to be optimistic moving forward despite being disappointed with Saturday’s results.
“That is the model… that is the program that you want to emulate,” Rocco said. “All things told, we got beat by a good team… I did think our team fought, I do think our team cares, and I do believe our team is talented. We’re young, and we’re going to see how well we can respond from this experience.”
The Blue Hens look to get back on track next Saturday when they take on Penn at home.