HARRISBURG, Pa.- Riding high off a lopsided win in December’s Santa Bowl, Saturday’s preseason game didn’t go how the Hanover Rhinos envisioned.
It was a sloppy game featuring fumbled snaps, dropped passes, communication issues, and one glaring blown coverage, but it’s the reason teams play preseason games.
The score didn’t matter, but the Rhinos (1-1 preseason) remained winless all-time in the city of Harrisburg as the Pennsylvania Pharoahs of the ECFA prevailed 6-0.
“We started off good, and then we kind of dropped off at the end,” Rhinos’ defensive coordinator Adam Bostian said. “Guys need to study their playbooks more, because we’re throwing guys in, and they should know what they’re doing. They put in a great effort. The score doesn’t mean anything, it’s a scrimmage. Emotions fly high, it’s football.”
Bostian was forced to step in as acting head coach and offensive coordinator on Saturday due to the absence of head coach Noah Sneeringer. Sneeringer designs and calls all the offensive plays for the Rhinos.
The offense struggled in both facets of the preseason game. Each team was allowed 10 plays to move the ball on its first two possessions, with no regard being given to down-down-and-distance, and the Rhinos didn’t move the ball closer than the Pharaohs’ 11 during that time.
Each team then got three drives under normal game circumstances, and Hanover picked up just 3 total first downs.
“I don’t know the offense, and I’m not worried about it, because I know (when Noah is here) he knows what he’s doing,” Bostian said.
The Rhinos accrued 109 yards on 39 plays, which equals 2.8 yards per carry.
The first drive featured five passes from first-string quarterback Chase Scharf. He nailed Hannibal Flores underneath on the left side for 17 yards on the second play of the game, and then found Dominic Cotterino on the opposite side for 11 yards four plays later.
Twon “Choo Choo” Lyles chugged off right tackle for 13 yards, pushing the ball to the Pharaohs’ 32 late in the series, but a bad snap leading to a 20-yard loss ended the drive.
The Darkside defense took the field, and a new face made a big splash.
Defensive tackle Jon Veitch made 5 tackles on the first defensive series, with 4 of them occurring behind the line of scrimmage.
On play number four, Brandon Nicastro crashed around the left side of the line, causing quarterback Austin Mitchell to tuck the ball and take off.
He didn’t get far.
Veitch burst through the middle of the line and slung Mitchell to the ground for a sack with some help from Adam Day.
Veitch stuffed 3 of the final 4 plays to snuff out the first series.
Hanover took over at its own 20 with second-string quarterback Jake Orner at the helm.
Orner completed his first 5 passes in the contest, but series two was about the rushing attack.
Bruising runner Bernard Jackson made his season debut for the Rhinos, and toted the pigskin 4 times for 23 yards.
On first down, Orner wound up Jackson like a mechanical toy by handing him the football, and then watched him run through a hole on the right side. He executed a powerful spin to break a tackle just past the line of scrimmage, and churned for 10 yards before being cut down by Darius Crenshaw.
Orner rifled a pinpoint pass to Phoenix Russell down the middle for 24 yards, setting up an encore performance for Jackson.
Jackson followed his blocks toward the left sideline on the ensuing play, and was bottled up by a handful of Pharaohs’ defenders after gaining two yards.
However, he wasn’t finished.
Jackson continued to drive his legs, pushing the pile of defenders down the field, and kept gaining momentum as the pile-up became bigger and bigger. The Pharaohs never got him to the ground, and Jackson started to break free, but the play was blown dead after a 10-yard gain.
A loss of 4 yards on a bad snap led to a sequence of piecemeal offensive plays, backing the Rhinos into a corner.
After Orner’s 1-yard completion to Jaton Herder, a Rhinos’ lineman continued to block his man after the whistle, and spirited scuffle broke out around the 30-yard line. Players from both teams raced in to stick up for their teammates and keep the peace as the scrum spilled over onto the Rhinos’ sideline.
“Like I said, emotions do run high,” Bostian said. “It’s an aggressive, physical game, and everybody wants to win. Winning overshadows your job. Sportsmanship is the big thing. I want our guys to stay clean. Do your job, stay clean. Shake the other guy’s hand, that’s fine. Knock him down, help him back up. It’s part of a brotherhood. It’s football.”
Cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and when the game resumed, Hanover needed 30 yards to score on the last play of the drive.
The Rhinos surprisingly ran a draw with Diego Simms. He gave a heroic effort, making like Jackson and carrying a niwt of Pharaohs down the field before being stopped at the 11 yard line.
Simms and Jackson tied for the team lead in rushing on the afternoon with 23 yards apiece.
Veitch continued to terrorize the Pharaohs’ ball-carriers as he racked up stops on the first two plays of the next defensive series.
Brandon Nicastro, who was wearing a prototype of the Rhinos’ 2018 jersey to test out its durability, recorded quarterback hurries on the second and third plays of the drive.
Then, it was time for a familiar face to shine.
After returning from his several month long trip to Europe, Richard Settle suited up for the first time in nearly 9 months.
The AFA’s third leading tackler from last season recorded two stops, including a tackle for loss to give the Rhinos the ball back.
Receiver Jordan Gardner and lineman Dustyn Lauver each recorded a pancake block on the Rhinos’ first down-and-distance series, but Hanover ceded possession after gaining only 4 yards.
A 17-yard pass completion by Mitchell moved the ball near midfield, but Stefaun Rascoe and Jordan Gardner each made tackles at the line of scrimmage to halt the drive.
Scharf returned, and hit Hannibal Flores for 5 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive. Flores leads the Rhinos in catches (6) and yards (83) this preseason.
Twon Lyles, who leads the Rhinos in rushing yards (31) this preseason, scratched out a yard on 2nd down, but an incompletion and a bad snap curtailed the Rhinos’ 4th drive.
Michael Minetos hurried Mitchell and forced him into an incompletion on the ensuing Pharaohs’ first down. Bashawn McFadden and Veitch combined to stop running back Charrdan Long, setting up 3rd-and-7.
Mitchell dropped back to pass and whipped a deep ball down the right sideline, like he had done unsuccessfully so many other times in Saturday’s game. This time, receiver Darius Crenshaw was streaking down the field, all alone. The former Harrisburg Shark ran under the ball and hustled into the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown.
Mitchell’s pass on the two-point conversion attempt was hauled in, but the receiver landed out of bounds, causing the try to fail.
Orner headed back out to the huddle to lead a last-gasp attempt at a comeback, and the Rhinos put together their best drive of the day.
Simms plowed ahead for 4 yards on first down. Fullback Michael Lowery, who had levelled a defender with his shoulder on a short catch earlier in the game, got the next carry.
Lowery performed a hellacious stop-cut behind the line to send a defender to flying by him. He then ran for 7 yards and a first down.
Orner hit Cotterino perfectly in stride on a deep-in route for 16 yards near midfield.
The duo attempted to hook up again on a deep ball down the home sideline on the left, but Crenshaw raced over and dipped his shoulder into Cotterino just as the ball arrived, forcing an incompletion.
A 7-yard run by Jackson was followed by an incompletion to Phoenix Russell along the right sideline, setting up a dramatic 4th-and-3 from the Pharaohs’ 33.
Orner took the snap and fired a quick-out to Flores, who was past the first down marker. Flores snagged the ball for a 5 yard gain, and then stumbled out of bounds, nearly wiping out Rhinos’ statistician George Marinos in the process.
The excitement was short-lived, however, as Orner’s short pass to Amir Pearson along the sideline was picked off.
Several plays later, the Rhinos ownership decided to end the game early because of the increasing level of bad blood.
Bostian mentioned that if it were a regular season game, the Rhinos would have continued to play.