The Hanover Rhinos open their 2016 season with a trip down I-795 to face the Franklin County Tigers.
The Rhinos will be looking to even their all-time regular season mark of 16-17-1, while Franklin County has amassed a 4-30 record over the last four years.
SERIES HISTORY: The Rhinos have won all three meetings with the Tigers, outscoring them 124-7 in the process.
RHINOS IN OPENERS: Hanover is 1-3 in season openers, including dropping last year’s opener against the Virginia Vengeance 13-8.
LAST YEAR’S MEETING: Garrett Davis’ 30-yard touchdown reception from Matt Wade in the first quarter marked the first points the Tigers had ever scored vs. the Rhinos. It was all Hanover after that, as the Rhinos won 28-7.
Bob Moore threw a touchdown pass in every quarter, including one to tight end Kody Taylor. Taylor also recorded a sack in the game, becoming the only recorded player in Rhinos history to have an offensive touchdown and a sack in the same game.
Jay Collins caught only two passes, but they both went for scores and a total of 113 yards.
The Rhinos ran wild, piling up 147 yards on just 18 carries, with the bruising Jeremy Knaub leading the way with 11 carries for 94.
The final score was the closest margin in the series’ short history.
RHINOS OUTLOOK: New faces, or at least ones who didn’t star last year, abound for the 2016 Rhinos.
The Rhinos have a lot of production to replace from last year.
High-flying receiver Jordan Banks, a 2012 Hanover High School graduate, will likely be looked on to fill the shoes of departed stud receiver Jay Collins.
Collins, who was always a deep threat in 2015, caught 24 balls, and his 708 yards accounted for over half of the team’s passing total, but Banks displayed the talent necessary to star in this league while he was a Nighthawk.
No player on the current roster attempted a pass last year, as both Bob Moore and Chase Scharf have moved on. The pair combined to complete 104-of-203 passes (51%) for 20 scores and 12 interceptions.
Gone is Gui Lazar, who led the team in rush attempts (44) last season.
Leading rusher Jeremy Knaub (342 yds, 8.1 ypc) is back to continue his brutal assault on defenses, and he is also the Rhinos’ leading returning receiver with 71 yards.
The Rhinos allowed just 11 sacks lasts season, and a number of offensive linemen from that group are returning, including Jamel Leighton and Greg Day.
The defense figures to be a strength again for the Rhinos.
2015 All-Star linebackers Dorrell Blue and Kody Taylor return. Taylor will be looking to repeat as the AFA sack leader. He tallied 14 sacks in 2015.
South Western high school standout Jason Gigous has been an iron man, performing well on both sides of the ball for the Rhinos for a few years.
Kicker Alex Elliott returns after making 6-of-9 kicks last year, including 6-of-8 on extra points.
New head coach Rick Lash has some holes to fill, but has the collection of talent necessary to build the third winning season in Rhinos history.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS: Quarterback Josh Leininger completed 65% of his passes last season. The bad news? He averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt, which was 9th among the 12 statistically-qualified AFA quarterbacks. He also tossed 10 interceptions, tied for 2nd most in the league.
In Franklin County’s only win of 2015, Leininger avoided the interceptions, and threw for 195 yards (roughly 25% of his season total), as the Tigers defeated the winless Mid-Atlantic Raiders 21-12.
Franklin County’s defense gave up the most points in the league in 2015.
The Tigers’ win came on the opening weekend last year, so the Rhinos have to be ready to play from the start.