Don't be snowed: FCS loss at Montana shows Delaware faces tough challenge in FBS climb

In what was surely a sentimental journey for many, Delaware’s FCS playoff quest met an emphatic end Saturday night in Missoula, Montana.

For the third time in four seasons, it was clear Delaware isn’t even close to being Football Championship Subdivision title material.

Maybe there is no better time, then, to see if the Blue Hens can excel at something else, like being a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Conference USA.

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That is still two long years away. But perhaps it’s fitting that Delaware’s final FCS foray took place in a snow globe, permanently preserving its 49-19 loss to Montana at Washington-Grizzly Stadium for eternity.

It won’t look so pretty on a shelf.

Delaware defensive back Alex Villas prepares for a play in the snow at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana, Saturday night.
Delaware defensive back Alex Villas prepares for a play in the snow at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana, Saturday night.

Delaware was overmatched from the start, just as it was in lopsided 2021 spring and 2022 playoff defeats at South Dakota State.

And Delaware may start life in Conference USA that way, too, judging by how big and fast and talented Liberty and New Mexico State appeared in Friday night’s league title game won by Liberty.

The Blue Hens do have time and they also have the transfer portal to build for that. What they don’t have is a time portal to get them there faster, with what will surely be an odd CAA lame-dunk season looming in 2024.

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It wouldn’t be surprising if some older Delaware players enter that portal themselves, preferring to finish their careers someplace where there is more to play for besides victorious Saturdays.

As part of its eventual upward climb, Delaware may also play next season with an offensive coordinator – perhaps one with Blue Hens ties – after head coach Ryan Carty has also been chief play-caller and orchestrator the last two years.

But first things first.

Ryan O’Connor’s return from an injury to the starting quarterback position certainly gave Delaware an additional dose of hope at Montana. O’Connor threw a pair of first-half TD passes to Chandler Harvin and later ran for a TD.

But Delaware couldn’t stop Montana, which scored on six straight possessions after Tyron Herring’s interception ended the first.

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Delaware was also undermined by, among other things, a pass-interference call on the Grizzlies’ first scoring drive, a blocked punt, a high snap on a punt that led to a safety and failures on a fourth-and-2 pass and fourth-and-1 run in Montana territory.

And that was just in the first half, which ended with Delaware down 35-12.

A more promising second half loomed when Delaware forced Montana to punt for the first time on its first third-quarter series. Instead, a fumble returned for a touchdown and interception that set up another quickly made it 49-12.

"Is that team 30 points better than us?" Carty said. "I don't think so. I think that's us not playing great and not necessarily handling some of the situations and adversity that was thrown our way today."

Now it’s all about looking ahead.

If past is prologue, as Shakespeare theatrically suggested, Delaware’s football future has some bright glimmers. But, remember, this is a program that hasn’t won a fall league title in the CAA since 2010 and tied for fourth this year and sixth last year.

Saturday’s loss at Montana, along with some of its other recent playoff defeats, shows Delaware must improve considerably to successfully manage its imminent climb to the less forgiving FBS.

"We're gonna keep fighting and we're gonna keep getting better and we're gonna keep winning," Carty told Blue Hens Radio after the game.

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This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Playoff loss shows Delaware has tough task in climb to FBS, CUSA