Hen-pecked: Delaware hits JSU early, and Webb's injury adds pain in playoff loss

Joe Medley, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·4 min read

May 2—JACKSONVILLE — Funny thing about playoff football. In college, it brings exotic opponents from other parts of the country with exotic schemes.

Delaware brought a different game to Jacksonville State in their FCS second-round game Sunday. Throw in a game-ending knee injury to JSU quarterback Zion Webb, and it spelled the end.

In a battle between northern and southern chickens, the Blue Hens go out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter and made it stand to beat the Gamecocks 20-14.

Delaware (7-0) will play the Southern Illinois-South Dakota State winner in the semifinals. JSU, the No. 4 seed in these playoffs, finished (10-3).

Sunday's game could not have started worse for JSU. With quarterback Nolan Henderson scrambling and finding open receivers, Delaware mounted touchdown drives of 75 and 89 yards in the first quarter, ending in Taysom Hill-like quarterback Anthony Paoletti's 2-yard run and Dejoun Lee's 1-yarder to make it 14-0 by 3:28 of the first quarter.

Then Webb went down on a scramble in the second quarter and never returned.

Webb, a redshirt junior, had been Zerrick Cooper's backup for two-plus seasons. When Cooper went down early in the Florida International game in the fall, Webb came on and led the Gamecocks to victory.

Webb's performance in the spring led to his first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection, but the question always loomed ... did JSU have a good answer if Webb got hurt?

JSU turned to Chance Newman and AC Graham, whose 74-yard run to open the third quarter set up the Gamecocks' first score, Uriah West's 1-yard run.

Delaware answered with Ryan Coe's 23-yard field goal and added his 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and JSU's offense couldn't sustain drives until too late.

Graham threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jared Scott with 41 seconds left, but Delaware recovered the onsides kick.

Here are three things we learned:

1. Delaware's odd defense

Delaware's defensive look was a bit of a changeup for JSU. The Blue Hens typically rush three defenders and drop eight with what Grass called "exotic coverages." They also have a freelancer to act as a spy, and middle linebacker Liam Trainer locked in on Webb's scrambles.

The Gamecocks tried new wrinkles, some effective and some not, but could not sustain drives when Webb was in the game. When he left the game, JSU had now answer.

2. Webb injured

Webb went out after scrambling near JSU's sideline in the second quarter and never returned. He was on crutches.

JSU tapped Newman, a redshirt sophomore, and Delaware turned to blitzing. They came free up the middle and sacked the inexperienced quarterback to end successive drives.

JSU tried Graham, who had been Webb's backup all season, at the end of the first half. After his long run set up JSU's lone touchdown, he threw an interception when Delaware safety Noah Plack moved on a floating pass for Trae Barry.

Graham then fumbled when he took a hit while making a pitch to doom JSU's next possession and threw a fourth-quarter interception.

3. Defensive adjustment

All season, JSU has stopped the run and pressured the quarterback. With the exception of Florida State's Travis Jordan, the Gamecocks had not run into a quarterback who could consistently connect on passes that opened up.

Henderson was that quarterback. He eluded JSU's rushes, scrambled and hit open receivers on the Blue Hens' two first-quarter touchdown drives.

Henderson hit tight end Bryce De Maille twice on Delaware's 75-yard drive to open the game, and one Henderson scramble netted 15 extra yards when he and JSU safety Jeremiah Harris slid at the end of the play. They bumped, and Harris, who was trying to stop, still drew the flag.

Henderson keyed Delaware's second touchdown drive when he dropped a 27-yard dime down the sideline to Brett Buckman to convert third down and 11 from the Blue Hens' 10.

Henderson the ball right over well-positioned cornerback Yul Gowdy.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.