Rhinos 26, Gladiators 12
GLENVILLE, Pa.- It’s the season of giving, and the Hanover Rhinos have had no problem doing their part this year.
On Saturday afternoon, it became the season of taking, and the Rhinos’ defense, nicknamed Darkside, played the role of grinch.
After collecting nearly 1,000 toys during their drive for Toys for Tots over the last few months, the Rhinos collected 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, a safety, and 3 sacks in Santa Bowl V, as they beat the Southern Maryland Gladiators 26-12.
“Oh, it’s great (to play another team),” Rhinos head coach Noah Sneeringer said. “The last few weeks of practice got a little chippy because the guys have just been hitting each other the last 6 or 7 weeks.”
The Rhinos came out and tried to hit the Gladiators in the mouth with a 13-play drive that took 10 minutes and 30 seconds off the game clock.
Set up with 1st down at SMG’s 13-yard line, the Rhinos looked poised to score. However, three straight incompletions by Chase Scharf pushed Hanover to 4th down.
With kicker Alex Elliott sidelined, the Rhinos opted to go for the touchdown. Scharf was pressured immediately from the left end of the line, and he scrambled right.
He threw spectacularly back across his body for Tyson Hale, but the ball was knocked away by a leaping Braxton Powell at the back line of the endzone.
The drive delivered body-blows, but the defense threw a haymaker.
On 3rd-and-15 of the ensuing drive, 2012 AFA All-Star Brandon Nicastro pressured quarterback Brian Green, and he threw on the run right to Rhinos’ linebacker Stefaun Rascoe, who rumbled down the away sideline for a 33-yard touchdown.
Southern Maryland’s next drive ended on the final play of the first quarter, when the fourth down pass by Green sailed out of bounds in the flat.
The Rhinos took over at the SMG 40, but were forced to 4th-and-34. Jordan Gardner boomed a punt that was headed for the end zone, but Powell of the Gladiators scooped it up inches from the goal line, and was tackled at his own 4 by Hale. However, a penalty on Hanover forced a re-punt.
This time, Gardner knocked the punt down inside the 10, and it went through Powell’s hands. He back-tracked into his own end zone before being tackled by Adam Day and Hale at the 2.
Hanover’s defensive front swarmed the backfield looking for a safety on first down, but their efforts went in vain when Mike Clark dropped the swing pass in the end zone.
Something even more rewarding happened on the next play from scrimmage, as Dominic Cotterino intercepted Tyler Bailey’s pass.
Trey Seymour’s dead-ball personal foul for taunting moved the Rhinos back to the 29, but that just allowed the Rhinos to rack up more yards on their way into the end zone.
Jake Orner’s first series as Rhinos’ quarterback nearly ended in disaster, when, on the second play, he threw the ball right into the stomach of defender Andrew Lomax. Lomax dropped the potential interception, and it riccocheted into the hands of Hale for 6 yards.
Orner patiently executed a quarterback draw for 6 yards and a first down, and then, Twon “Choo Choo” Lyles chugged untouched up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown.
With 1:23 to go in the half, Gardner pinned the Gladiators at their own 6. Then, the chaos began.
On 3rd-and-10, Bailey dropped back to pass, where defensive tackle Michael Minetos chased him back into a pair of free-rushing defenders. Trey Seymour chopped the quarterback down for a safety, just the third all-time safety for the Rhinos in all competitions.
With 49 seconds left, Cotterino returned the free kick 22 yards to the SMG 44.
Two 16-yard passes by Orner, one to George Bell, and one to Phoenix Russell, moved the ball to the 12.
Hanover called timeout with 3 seconds remaining in the half, and sent Russell on to try a 30-yard field goal.
However, the Rhinos were penalized 5 yards for having too many players on the field.
When Russell lined up to kick again, the Gladiators called timeout to freeze him just as the ball was being snapped.
Hanover pulled the field goal unit off and brought the offense back on the field, led by Orner.
Orner dropped back to pass, and heaved a perfect ball for the back left corner of the end zone. Cotterino ran under it, fought for prime position, and snagged the ball as he tumbled to the ground with a most-improbable 17-yard touchdown.
Hanover led 20-0 at halftime.
The teams traded defensive stops to start the third quarter.
SMG turned the ball over on downs, and Hanover in turn lost possession when Scharf bobbled the snap and put it on the ground.
A welcome sight for Rhinos fans occurred on the ensuing play, when Adriel Garibay manhandled his blocker and flattened the quarterback for a sack.
Garibay is tied for the Rhinos’ all-time lead in quarterback hurries, and was sorely missed during the final 8 games of the 2016 regular season.
Lloyd Welford yanked down an interception for the second straight Santa Bowl, and returned it 23 yards. A facemask penalty on the Gladiators put the ball at the 11.
Scharf returned, and lasered a ball to tight end Adrian Acevedo in the front corner of the end zone. Acevedo, a Gettysburg graduate, reached out and caught the ball with one hand, pushing the Hanover lead to 26-0.
“I have to say, I was afraid I wasn’t going to catch that,” Acevedo said. “You know, I just went for it, things happen, and what happened was a score.”
With the Rhinos rotating players in to give everyone a look, Green completed 4 of 5 passes, and led the Gladiators down the field as the third quarter ended.
Isaiah Hall blasted up the middle and crossed the goal line while getting leveled by Dorell Blue early in the 4th to break the shutout. The two-point try failed when the handoff was fumbled, and Dustin Knode jumped on the ball to make sure the play ended.
Green plunged across the goal line from 1 yard out with 9:18 to go in the game, making the score 26-12. The score was set up by Green’s deep ball to James Stewart that resulted in a 49-yard gain.
Michael Lowery swatted away the two-point passing attempt.
Forced to punt on its next possession, Hanover called on Gardner to punt again. He hit an 21-yard wobbler that bounced and hit George Bell in the back at the SMG 37. An upback raced up and picked the ball up before running sideways and getting walloped by Phoenix Russell. The ball popped loose, and Russell picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown. However, the whistle blew, and the Gladiators were correctly awarded the ball at the spot of Bell’s original touching.
On the final SMG drive, Welford pounded Stewart, producing a fumble that Rascoe scooped up.
Rascoe raced 41-yards for what would have been his second score of the game, but David Harden was called for an illegal block below the waist, negating most of the return.
“Oh, I’m excited,” Hanover Rhinos’ 2016 captain and All-Star Dustyn Lauver said. “It was an amazing game to watch with all of the backups, and it was just a lot to take in and process. I’m really excited for this upcoming season.”