No. 1 N.D. State dominates Blue Hens 47-22; Smyrna products Henderson, Knight shine for UD

Former Smyrna star Nolan Henderson completed 9-of-12 passes for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Blue Hens on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Unlike last year, Delaware made a couple good plays early against North Dakota State.

But, just like last year, any good plays the Blue Hens made were way too few and far between to matter against the mighty Bison.

Looking like the No. 1-ranked FCS team it is, North Dakota State shook off an early two-point deficit to steamroll No. 22 Delaware, 47-22, in its first visit to Delaware Stadium before a crowd of 14,489 on Saturday afternoon.

For local fans, though, there was also a feeling of deja vu when the Hens’ pair of former Smyrna High stars — quarterback Nolan Henderson and running back Will Knight — saw considerable second-half playing time.

Knight ran for a career-high 115 yards on just eight carries while Henderson completed 9-of-12 passes for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While it was clearly too little, too late, the Smyrna duo also clearly gave Delaware’s offense some life after falling behind 27-5 at halftime.

The bottom line, though, is that seven-time FCS champion NDSU (3-0) is really, really good and the Hens (2-1) have plenty of work to do. The Bison out-gained Delaware 490 yards to 261 and held a 26-14 edge in first downs.

“I have said for quite some time, that is the model,” Delaware coach Danny Rocco said about NDSU. “That is the program that want to emulate. I’m really impressed with what I saw out there today.

“Having said that, I was very disappointed in our performance today. … We put our defense out there an awful lot in the first half — we kind of hung them out there to dry. The offense really had nothing to speak of in the first half.”

The Hens actually led the Bison (3-0) for the first time when, after stopping NDSU on a three-and-out on its opening possession, they blocked the punt. The ball went out of the end zone for a safety less than two minutes into the contest.

The Bison, however, intercepted QB Pat Kehoe at the Delaware 35 on the ensuing possession and were quickly in business.

Four plays later, NDSU scored on a one-yard run and the Bison had the lead for good.

When Ben Ellefson pulled in a five-yard scoring pass from QB Trey Lance (18-for-23, 195 yards, 3 TDs) with 30 seconds left before halftime, the Bison’s lead had swelled to 27-5.

At times NDSU manhandled Delaware’s lines, out-gaining the Hens, 268-29 in total yards in the first half. Under pressure most of the time, Kehoe completed only 2-of-8 passes for 11 yards in the first two quarters.

Smyrna product Will Knight rushed for 115 yards against North Dakota State. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Delaware’s longest offensive plays in the opening half were a pair of 10-yard runs by Knight and Henderson.

While there was never any doubt that the Bison would win — especially after they scored on the opening possession of the second half to stretch their lead to 33-5 — Knight and Henderson at least made things interesting.

In the fourth quarter, Henderson found Gene Coleman on a seven-yard scoring pass. It was the first offensive TD Delaware scored in its two games against NDSU.

Later, he scrambled away from pressure and found receiver Chichi Amachi, who made a diving catch for a 44-yard scoring pass.

“With their defense, you can’t really get to your last read,” said Henderson. “It’s one, two and then you’ve kind of got to get out and try to make something happen. They’re just a great team. They’re good for a reason.”

Henderson also gained 38 yards on eight carries, although he did lose 20 for a net total of 18. Along with his rushing yards, Knight added 46 yards on three receptions.

Rocco likes what he’s seen from Knight, the Old Dominion transfer, who caught the winning touchdown pass in the Hens’ triple-overtime win at Rhode Island last week.

“He’s elusive and fast,” said Rocco. “He’s got that suddenness to go up inside the tackles and get into those creases — and then come out of the creases with speed. The really good ones can do that.”

“We have a lot to learn,” said Knight. “We came out slow and we need to do better at that, honestly. They’re a good football team — we can’t make mistakes like we did.”

Henderson was actually sacked more times (four) than Kehoe (three) but Rocco thought the sophomore’s mobility was needed against the Bison pass rush.

“Nolan gives us a different dynamic,” said Rocco. “He can throw the extraordinarily well but he does have the ability to extend some plays. It takes a little stress off your offensive line, they don’t have to be perfect there in the pocket. Nolan can make some plays with arm and obviously he can make some plays with his arm.

“That gave us a spark, no doubt — that and Will coming in there and running the ball.”

The obvious question was whether Rocco was considering changing his starting QB gong forward.

“It’s unlikely that I’ll make that decision right here in this moment,” he said in his post-game press conference.

Extra points

The Hens played without starting running back DaJoun Lee and linebacker Johnny Buchanan, who were both sidelined with knee injuries. … Defensive tackle Dominic Covatto left the game. Rather than injury, though, Rocco thought it was because of an illness he had during the week. … Defensive backs Kedrick Whitehead (Middletown) and Noah Plack had 10 tackles apiece. … Freshman Jourdan Townsend had a 59-yard kickoff return in the first quarter. … Delaware is at home again next Saturday to play a 1 p.m. game against Pennsylvania.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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