QB's injury adds perspective to lopsided Delaware playoff loss

Perspective can be a wonderful thing, despite the difficulties that often conspire to create it.

So it was for the Delaware football team as it once again left Brookings, South Dakota, severely humbled, its quest to return to the FCS elite given a “You’re not even close” retort.

But the quarterback who played most of the game for the Blue Hens was apparently OK after a scary late-game hit and injury that actually led to the game being stopped with 1:07 left.

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That made the tweet from Delaware football at 6:27 p.m. – “QB Ryan O’Connor was responsive and moving all of his extremities upon leaving the field” – better than any news that could have come out of Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Saturday.

O’Connor was taken to an area hospital for evaluation. He was later supposedly feeling better and smiling as he spoke with team personnel.

Delaware quarterback Ryan O’Connor is loaded on a stretcher to be transported off the field for emergency care after a severe injury with only a minute left in the FCS playoff game against South Dakota State on December 3, 2022, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. The game ended immediately after.
Delaware quarterback Ryan O’Connor is loaded on a stretcher to be transported off the field for emergency care after a severe injury with only a minute left in the FCS playoff game against South Dakota State on December 3, 2022, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. The game ended immediately after.

Football felt a little bit too close to life and death before that, as the largest collection of personnel I’ve ever seen surround an injured player tended to O’Connor, the red-shirt freshman from Easton, Maryland.

He’d been struck hard in the chest and neck area as he slid to complete a 10-yard run on third-and-1. His head also snapped back and hit the turf hard. A personal foul was called but not targeting.

Teammates quickly showed concern, with tight end John Ricci waving to summon medical help. The quarterback’s body appeared to be quivering as trainers arrived. He later left the field on a stretcher.

It all made the matter of winning and losing, the attention and emotion often devoted to each, seem relatively insignificant in comparison, which is where that perspective arrives.

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As it was, for the second time in three seasons, South Dakota State was vastly superior to the Blue Hens.In the spring 2021 semifinals it was by a 33-3 score. On Saturday, in this year’s NCAA Tournament round-of-16, it was a 42-6 whipping.

Delaware could not move the football against the Jackrabbits. Certainly, losing standout quarterback Nolan Henderson on the first series, which did end in a field goal, with an apparent left leg injury had something to do with that, though O’Connor showed poise and confidence stepping in.

Delaware’s Kyron Cumby carries the ball during an FCS playoff game against South Dakota State on December 3, 2022, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.
Delaware’s Kyron Cumby carries the ball during an FCS playoff game against South Dakota State on December 3, 2022, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.

The Blue Hens mustered a mere 192 total yards, including just 64 rushing, which included the 20 yards lost on three sacks.

But the Hens couldn’t stop South Dakota State either, despite having perhaps the oldest and most experience defensive unit they have ever had, one that ranked among the nation’s best statistically in FCS and included seven returning starters from that 2021 game.

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South Dakota State’s first three series consisted of 19 plays, covered 222 yards and netted three touchdowns. The first 18 of those plays were first or second downs.

Delaware beat Navy this year to highlight its 5-0 start. It then lost four of its last six.

Three of those defeats, at William & Mary, against Richmond and at Villanova, were very close and the outcome was swayed by costly UD mistakes or failures to execute. Each could have just as easily been victories, but Delaware got what it deserved.

Delaware’s Jourdan Townsend is tackled by a South Dakota State defender during an FCS playoff game on December 3, 2022, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.
Delaware’s Jourdan Townsend is tackled by a South Dakota State defender during an FCS playoff game on December 3, 2022, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.

The Hens also deserved their place in the 24-team FCS field, and showed why in a 56-17 opening round rout of Saint Francis.

But to add to its list of six national titles, the last coming in 2003, or to get back to the NCAA title game, where it lost in 2007 and 2010, Delaware has significant ground to make up, as the losses to South Dakota State have demonstrated.

It starts with getting bigger and better up front, on both offense and defense, because that’s where the Hens have been most overmatched.

And however that turns out, what happened Saturday was a reminder that these guys take a huge physical risk to play this game for their own pleasure and to entertain others, and that should never be forgotten.

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

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware football O'Connor NCAA FCS Blue Hens South Dakota State