A briefly promising afternoon quickly turned ominous instead on Saturday, as Delaware once again learned it is not yet national championship material.
The Blue Hens struck first but then were repeated recipients of South Dakota State's offensive firepower in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision round-of-16 matchup.
The Jackrabbits then averaged more than 11 yards per snap while scoring on three straight possessions, putting down a solid foundation for a 42-6 victory at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in chilly Brookings, South Dakota.
Three third-quarter touchdowns provided additional emphasis.
It didn't help that Delaware quarterback Nolan Henderson, who set a school record for touchdown passes this season, did not return after injuring his left leg on a third-down run on the game's first possession. Brandon Ratcliffe's 27-yard field goal then gave Delaware an early 3-0 edge.
Zach Gwynn relieved him for one series and completed all three of his passes before red-shirt freshman Ryan O'Connor came on. O'Connor played the rest of the game and completed 10 of 21 passes for 104 yards.
But O'Connor took a hard hit resulting in an unnecessary roughness infraction with 1:07 left, resulting in a long delay as medical personnel tended to him and coaches from both teams joined the large group surrounding him. After he was carted off the field on a stretcher, coaches and game officials agreed to end the game there.
O'Connor "was responsive and moving all of his extremities upon leaving the field and is being examined further," Delaware football Twitter later reported.
Delaware was outgained 353-192 in total yards. Leading UD rusher Kyron Cumby carried 10 times for 23 yards.
It was all painfully familiar.
Delaware had lost 33-3 at South Dakota State in a 2021 FCS spring semifinal game that involved many of the same players who took part in the rematch. Delaware had also kicked a field goal to take an early lead in that game before things changed dramatically.
No. 1-ranked South Dakota State (11-1) has won 11 straight. The Missouri Valley Conference champions were playing their first game in three weeks after having a bye last week as the top seed in the 24-team tournament. They move on to face No. 8-seed Holy Cross, a 35-19 winner Saturday over CAA co-champ New Hampshire.
No. 23-ranked Delaware finished its winningest season in 12 years with an 8-5 record under first-year coach Ryan Carty, who was not available for postgame comment.
Delaware long-snapper Jake Reed, the Caravel Academy graduate, had recovered a fumbled punt return to set up the Hens' initial field goal.
On South Dakota State's second play, quarterback Mark Gronowski bolted up the middle for a 51-yard gain. Three plays later Isaiah Davis scored from the 1 as the Jackrabbits went up 7-3 with 4:55 left in the first quarter.
They were just as efficient and effective on their next two drives, going 75 yards on just six plays and 77 yards on eight snaps to take command 21-3 with 4:22 to go in the first half.
Every play on those first three South Dakota State possessions was a first or second down except the last, a third-and-1 keeper for a touchdown by Gronowski. Davis had run 10 yards for a touchdown to close the second series.
Ratcliffe had a 40-yard first-half miss before making a 39-yarder as Delaware went into halftime within 21-6 after forcing punts on South Dakota State's last two possessions of the second quarter. That gave the Hens some hope.
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But the hosts exerted their authority again in the third quarter, Amar Johnson' 2-yard TD run finishing a 58-yard drive to start the second half. The Jackrabbits quickly extended their lead to 42-6 before the quarter ended when they recovered an errant snap on a Delaware punt for a touchdown and on Gronowski's 4-yard strike to Jaxon Janke for his first TD pass.
Gronowski finished 11-for-15 for 131 yards passing and ran for 73 yards. Davis had 104 yards on 14 carries.
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This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware football Blue Hens South Dakota State jackrabbits NCAA FCS