MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies will open their run in the FCS playoffs by hosting the Delaware Blue Hens at 7 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Delaware advanced to the second round by rallying for a 36-34 win over Lafayette on Saturday in Newark, Delaware. The Blue Hens outscored the Leopards 29-6 after trailing 28-7, putting up 26 unanswered points and posting a 23-6 margin in the second half.
Montana, the Big Sky champion, had earned a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Griz are ranked No. 2 in the final Stats Perform FCS Top 25 poll, while Delaware is No. 11 and Lafayette is No. 20.
Delaware true freshman Nick Minicucci, the third-string quarterback, finished 16-of-25 passing for 198 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. His 36-yard TD pass to Joshua Youngblood in the final minute of the first half brought the Blue Hens within 28-13 of Lafayette.
Running back Quincy Watson punched in a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter to get Delaware within 28-19. The Blue Hens ran for 203 yards while outgaining Lafayette 383-345.
Minicucci’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Braden Brose pulled Delaware within 28-26 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. He followed with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brose that gave the Blue Hens their first lead at 33-28 with 12:18 left in the game.
Lafayette’s offense had stalled when starting quarterback Dean DeNobile, a walk-on, left with an injury midway through the third quarter. He finished 10-of-15 passing for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Ryan Schuster struggled, completing 1 of 4 passes for negative-2 yards.
Schuster was replaced by Ah-Shaun Davis, who led Lafayette’s lone scoring drive in the final 44 minutes of the game to give it a 34-33 lead with 7:25 left. Running back Jamar Curtis scored that go-ahead touchdown as he carried the ball 29 times for 127 yards and three scores.
Delaware answered with a drive that resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Alex Schmoke with 1:37 remaining to go up 36-34. The Blue Hens then forced and recovered a fumble for the third time in the second half to seal the victory.
Turnovers had made for a nightmare start for Delaware. The Leopards forced four turnovers over a stretch of four drives and 10 offensive plays by the Blue Hens in the first half, converting three into touchdowns. While not counted as a turnover, they forced a turnover on downs that they converted into a touchdown on their way to a 28-7 lead.
Delaware finished the regular season ranked No. 11 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 and No. 12 in the AFCA Coaches Poll. They started the year No. 22 in the former.
The Blue Hens are 9-3 overall after the playoff win. They went 8-3 overall in the regular season and 6-2 in the 15-member Coastal Athletic Association to finish tied for fourth, the same place they were picked in the preseason poll.
Delaware is 4-1 on the road, 2-1 against ranked FCS teams and 3-0 in night games. They’re 7-0 when scoring 30 or more points and 2-3 when held under 30. They’re 6-0 when they have a positive turnover margin and 3-3 when they’re negative or tied.
The Blue Hens went 2-1 in nonconference play, beating playoff participant Duquesne 43-17 and non-playoff qualifier Saint Francis. They lost 63-7 to Penn State of the FBS Big Ten.
They won their first five CAA games, all against teams that didn’t make the playoffs. They went 4-0 in October to move to 7-1 overall and rose as high as No. 5 in the Top 25 poll at that point.
They then lost two of three games, falling to Elon and beating Campbell, neither of which qualified for the playoffs. They closed the regular season with a 35-7 loss to Villanova, which got the No. 8 seed in the postseason.
Delaware was one of four CAA playoff qualifiers. It didn’t play Albany, the No. 5 seed, or Richmond, an at-large team that won its first-round game over North Carolina Central, 49-27.
The Blue Hens finished the regular season ranked 16th in the FCS in scoring offense (32.4 ppg) and 19th in total offense (422.0 ypg). They were 24th in scoring defense (20.8 ppg), 18th in interceptions (12) and 15th in turnovers gained (20). They were fifth in fewest penalties per game (4.27).
Delaware lists 45 players as seniors on its roster — by comparison, Montana has 17 — along with 21 juniors. The Blue Hens brought in 21 transfers this past offseason and 32 over the past two years under their second-year head coach.
Delaware had one player earn All-CAA first-team honors: linebacker Jackson Taylor. He finished the regular season with 97 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. He’s a transfer from Division II West Chester, where he was a two-time All-American.
The Blue Hens put three players on the all-conference second team: running back Marcus Yarns, punt returner Jourdan Townsend and defensive lineman Chase McGowan. Yarns went into the playoffs ranked fourth in the FCS with 14 rush touchdowns and third in the FCS with 17 total touchdowns. He averaged 7.49 yards per carry in the regular season.
Delaware had five players on the All-CAA third team: wide receiver Jourdan Townsend, tight end Braden Brose, offensive lineman Fintan Brose, safety Ty Davis and punter Ryan Kost. Townsend had an 88-yard kickoff return against Lafayette.
The Blue Hens had one all-conference honorable mention: cornerback Tyron Herring.
Delaware is down to third-string quarterback Nick Minicucci. He’s a 6-foot-2, 210-pound true freshman who played at powerhouse Don Bosco Prep. He’s the first true freshman quarterback to start a game for Delaware since 2001.
Starter Ryan O’Connor had a lower body injury and backup Zach Marker had a season-ending leg injury in the regular season finale. O’Connor has thrown for 1,907 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Blue Hens went into the year with five players who had 1,000 or more career receiving yards: Jourdan Townsend (1,001), Kym Wimberly (1,063), Jalyn Witcher (1,157), Chandler Harvin (1,589) and Phil Lutz (2,256). In the regular season, they had 1,248 receiving yards after the catch, or 43% of their total receiving yards.
Their five starting offensive linemen in the regular season finale weighed 304, 300, 322, 352 and 331 pounds. That’s an average of 321.8 pounds.
Delaware head coach Ryan Carty has a 17-8 record in two seasons at his alma mater. He’s also the offensive coordinator and calls plays.
Before taking over at Delaware, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Sam Houston from 2018-21. He was named the FCS coordinator of the year by Football Scoop when Sam Houston won the spring 2021 FCS national championship. There, he coached quarterback Eric Schmid, a Walter Payton Award finalist and Southland Conference player of the year.
Carty got his start in coaching at New Hampshire. He was an assistant for 11 seasons from 2007-17. He had gotten into coaching right after his college playing career ended.
Carty played quarterback at Delaware from 2002-06. He was a backup on the Blue Hens’ national championship team in 2003.
As a player and coach, Carty has been in the FCS playoffs 17 times in 22 years. He’s 23-14 in the playoffs with two national titles.
Delaware is making its 19th playoff appearance since 1981. The Blue Hens are 26-17 in the postseason, the sixth most playoff wins all-time. They have won 13 consecutive home playoff games.
This is their second straight trip to the postseason. They lost in the second round last year to eventual national champion South Dakota State, 42-6. They finished with an 8-5 record.
It’s the first time they’re in the playoffs in back-to-back years since 2003-04. They won their most recent national title in 2003.
The University of Delaware is located in Newark, Delaware. It was founded in 1743. The school’s enrollment is listed at 24,039.
Delaware’s first football season was 1889. The program’s all-time record is 730-482-43. Home football games are played at Delaware Stadium, which has a capacity of 18,077.
According to the Blue Hens’ game notes, the University of Delaware is one of three institutions that has alums who have gone on to be U.S. President (Joe Biden), Super Bowl MVP (Joe Flacco) and NFL MVP (Rich Gannon). The other two institutions are Michigan and Stanford.
Montana and Delaware have played just once on the football field.
The Griz lost, 49-48, in the first round of the 1993 Division I-AA playoffs in Missoula. Montana sophomore quarterback Dave Dickenson completed 37 of 44 passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns and he ran for one score in the defeat.