RHINOS’ OFFENSE BOLTS TO LIFE IN NICK OF TIME
ELLICOTT CITY, Md.- The new-look Hanover Rhinos scored two touchdowns in the final 8:10 on Saturday to erased a 14-8 deficit and earn a hard-fought 24-14 victory over the much-improved Franklin County Tigers.
A pair of local high school graduates, both playing in their first game above the amateur level, hooked up for the decisive blow.
Michael Small (Gettysburg ’11) hauled in the winning touchdown on a 4th down less than four minutes after a devastating mistake put the Rhinos behind.
Rookie quarterback Jordan Gardner (New Oxford ’15) tossed 7 completions for 135 yards and two scores, and he saved his best work for the game-winning drive, when he went 3-of-3 for 54 yards.
The mettle of the offense was tested as the Rhinos faced 4th-and-4 from the Tigers’ 28-yard line with a little over 8 minutes left.
“In the huddle, it got a little tense as we were telling eachother that we just gotta stay calm, and, you know, we can get this win, and eventually, it worked out for us,” Small said.
As the Rhinos lined up, Small realized he was going to be wide open as his man lined up to blitz. Instead of running the hitch route the play was designed for, he headed straight down the field.
Gardner was on the same page as his receiver. He fired a bullet right into the hands of Small at the five, and the sure-handed receiver took the ball into the end zone.
The Rhinos entire bench, consisting of coaches and players, exploded as the ball crossed the goal line.
Still, there was work to be done.
Acting head coach Ben Davis, who is filling in indefinitely while Rick Lash recovers from shoulder surgery, kept things in perspective after taking the lead.
“I don’t celebrate until the final gun,” said Davis, who was making his head coaching debut. “There’s no point in doing that when there’s still time to play. You can get excited about scoring, but you have to get right back to work.”
However, a controversial personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit was called on Hanover’sAmir Pearson on an incomplete pass on third down, keeping the drive alive.
On the next play, the Rhinos committed two penalties, holding and offsides. The Tigers accepted the lesser penalty to set up a shorter first down, but the strategy backfired as three straight plays gained 0 yards.
Then, Wade’s fourth down pass was behind K.C. Redman, leaving the Rhinos with a little under five minutes to run off the clock.
DeAnte Weldon, who entered the final drive with negative rushing yards in the game, broke a 24-yard run, and finished the next play with a hellacious jump-cut for a 2-yard touchdown with 1:13 left.
Davis, whose voice reached several very high octaves while disputing referee calls during the game, was relieved to have the win under his belt.
“It feels really good,” he said. “It was a lot scary, being my first time. I had never led guys on the field before, but I got the fear outta me now.”
Wade put the fear in the Rhinos early in the fourth quarter on a bizarre mishap by Hanover.
With Hanover clinging to an 8-6 lead, Wade ran a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1. A play that normally, at best, gains two yards, instead went for a 33 yard touchdown as Wade burst through the a-gap and into wide open pastures.
“I called the wrong play,” Davis said. “It’s on me. I don’t blame any players. I should have called goal line formation, and I didn’t.”
The game started with a bang.
Franklin County’s Redman fumbled the opening kickoff in the first quarter, but the Tigers recovered.
However, Dustin Knode was called for being offsides on the play, and the Tigers drive had new life.
Controversy marred a spectacular catch by Redman for the game’s first touchdown.
Leininger’s pass was a hair low of Redman as he ran his route in the endzone. he reached back, palmed the ball, juggled it out in front of himself, and laid out for the ball.
However, the officials had differing opinions.
The side judge, who was to Redman’s back, called incomplete pass, while the back judge, who had a better view, called it a touchdown, and his call stuck.
Cody Johnston boinked the extra point off the crossbar, and the score remained 6-0.
It took Hanover awhile to get going on offense.
A failed 4th-and-20 deep in its own territory was followed by a red zone interception thrown by Gardner.
The third Rhinos drive found paydirt, however.
The special teams won the field position battle with a 20-yard punt return by Dominic Cotterino.
Set up at the Tigers’ 28, the Rhinos needed just four plays to score.
Alex Isennock fought his way back to the ball on a 22-yard completion, then, after a penalty, Gardner hit Alex Isennock on a 9-yard slant at the goal line for the Rhinos’ first points of 2016.
Weldon weaved his way into the endzone on a triple-option pitch on the two-point conversion, and the Rhinos led for the first time.
The defense held stout throughout the second and third quarters, led by Jeremy Renoll, who racked up 14 total tackles (9 solo).
The AFA’s incumbent sack-master Kody Taylor recorded his first sack of the season on the fourth play of the fourth quarter.
Hanover’s offense amassed nearly as many first downs in the fourth quarter (4) as they did in the previous three quarters total (5).
Things got testy in the final minutes of the game, as Franklin County’s Marshon Collinswas ejected for repeatedly shoving an official as he tried to go after Hanover’s Travis Garretson after the whistle had blown.
Collins was given a 15-yard penalty and was ejected from the contest.