Montana storms past Delaware in Blue Hens' FCS playoff finale

The Blue Hens were snowed under Saturday in their FCS playoff game at Montana.

But it wasn't just what fell from the sky that made for a difficult night at noisy Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

Problems quickly piled up along with the snow for Delaware, as Montana scored on six straight first-half series en route to a 49-19 rout of the Blue Hens in a round-of-16 duel viewed by 20,580 bundled-up onlookers.

Thus ended Delaware's season with a 9-4 record and its 51-year association with NCAA Tournament football. Delaware will be ineligible next year as it transitions for a 2025 climb to the Bowl Championship Subdivision and Conference USA.

No. 2-seeded Big Sky Conference champion Montana (11-1) advanced to a quarterfinal matchup with Furman.

"Once we settled in a little bit and got our procedure right, realized we could play in that condition in the snow," Delaware coach Ryan Carty told Blue Hens Radio, "I think we started to make a couple plays. And then occasionally something would go bad and things just didn't go our way for a little bit there."

Delaware cornerback Tyron Herring celebrates his early interception at Montana Saturday night.
Delaware cornerback Tyron Herring celebrates his early interception at Montana Saturday night.

The game kicked off at 7 p.m. local time with snow falling and the field blanketed. A couple of inches eventually fell before halftime, but there were limited second-half flurries.

Delaware had hoped to repeat the accomplishment of its 1993 predecessors who won a first-round game at Montana 49-48 in the schools’ lone previous meeting. But Montana quickly took command.

Delaware benefitted from Ryan O'Connor's return to the quarterback position after missing the last game and a half with a lower-body injury. He completed 17 of 36 passes despite the difficult elements for 197 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a TD.

"It was different," O'Connor said of the wintry conditions, which he never faced in a game being from Easton, Maryland. "It was just something you had to adjust to. It was just another game. It was awesome to play in. Just out there playing football."

Marcus Yarns had 68 yards on eight carries for Delaware.

NCAA BRACKET: Hens at Montana

Montana outgained Delaware only 389-347 in total yards but had 6.8 yards per play to the Hens' 4.4.

"I thought eventually we kinda realized what was OK and what wasn't to do on offense," Carty said about playing in the snow, adding there were times "I literally couldn't see if the ball was completed or not."

Delaware trailed 35-12 at halftime, then forced Montana to punt for the first time early in the third quarter. But any likelihood of a comeback was foiled on a 56-yard fumble return by Jaxon Lee on the Blue Hens' first subsequent series. Then an interception set up Clifton McDowell's 25-yard TD pass to Evan Shafer as the lead became 49-12.

Delaware did then put together a 14-play, 64-yard drive ending with O'Connor's 1-yard TD keeper. There was no scoring in the fourth period.

Montana scores on six straight series

O'Connor's 44-yard TD pass to Harvin with 13:59 left in the second period got Delaware on the scoreboard after Montana jumped ahead 16-0. O'Connor hit Harvin at the 25 and he sped in for the TD. A 2-point pass for Delaware was complete but shy of the goal line.

But Nico Ramos followed with his second field goal, from 30 yards, as Montana went up 19-6 with 10:22 to go in the second period.

Delaware's Jackson Taylor (0) and Keyshawn Hunter tackle Montana runner Eli Gillman Saturday in Missoula.
Delaware's Jackson Taylor (0) and Keyshawn Hunter tackle Montana runner Eli Gillman Saturday in Missoula.

Delaware was then stopped on downs for the second time in Grizzlies' territory on its next series as O'Connor's fouth-and-1 carry from the 39 was inches shy. Montana followed with McDowell's 55-yard TD pass on third-and-4 to Keelan White to make 26-6.

It then became 28-6 when a high snap sailed over UD punter Ryan Kost's head and out of the end zone for a safety and 35-6 after McDowell's 20-yard TD keeper. It was the sixth straight possession on which Montana scored.

"We were trying to do maybe a little too much early on defense," Carty said, "and kinda got hit a couple times on some big ones. … We just let it get out of hand a little bit."

Ryan O'Connor starts

O'Connor started at quarterback for Delaware after true freshman Nick Minicucci played last week. O’Connor was the Blue Hens’ starter when healthy all year but was injured in the Nov. 18 loss to Villanova and didn’t play in the Nov. 25 first-round win over Lafayette.

Montana fans prep for tonight's FCS playoff games at Delaware.
Montana fans prep for tonight's FCS playoff games at Delaware.

Delaware got the ball for its first possession after Tyron Herring intercepted a pass on Montana's second play but the Hens were three-and-out.

"It was great to start that way. I wish we did more of it," Carty said of the interception.

Montana then went up 3-0 lead after Ramos' 43-yard field goal with 5:21 left in the first period. It closed a 16-play, 54-yard drive.

The Blue Hens were 3-and-out again on their possession after the field goal and Ryan Kost's punt was partially blocked after a high snap, giving Montana possession at the UD 27. Xavier Harris ran for a touchdown on first down as Montana went up 10-0 with 3:31 left in the first period.

Delaware was then stopped on downs on fourth-and-2 at the Montana 40 on its next series, which was keyed by Quincy Watson's 23-yard run.

Nick Ostmo's 35-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter extended the Montana lead to 16-0, as a 2-point try failed.

More on Blue Hens

NEW UD SPORT: Delaware to add women's ice hockey

ROAD WARRIORS: Blue Hens try to add to this list of best postseason away wins

GETTING NOTICED: Move to FBS, Conference USA raises UD stature

Have an idea for a compelling local sports story or is there an issue that needs public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. Support local journalism by subscribing to and our DE Game Day newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware Blue Hens at Montana Grizzlies in FCS playoffs