5/20/17: Darkside vs. The End of the Line
It’s a common TV and movie trope for the season to come down to a last-game showdown for all the marbles. However, few times in sport does everything come down to the last game.
The 2017 Hanover Rhinos’ season has come down to one last game, and not only do the Rhinos need to win, they are facing the team they are competing with for the final playoff spot in an ultimate mano-y-mano showdown.
However, it’s more like Clint Eastwood staring down Angel Eyes and Tuco in the final scene of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
There are three competitors for the final playoff spot in the AFA Northern Conference.
The Rhinos face off against their local rivals, the Franklin County Tigers, but the Maryland Cannons also still own a potential claim to the 4th, and final, seed as well.
Which one of these teams will return to the playoffs after an absence in 2016?
We should know everything by 9:00 PM Saturday Night.
WHEN & WHERE: Saturday at 1:00 PM, at Manheim Adventure Park, 4565 Camp Woods Rd, Glenville, PA 17329.
WEATHER FORECAST AT KICKOFF: 70 degrees and sunny. Humidity: 52%, precipitation: 0%. Wind: 7 MPH Southeast.
SERIES HISTORY: The Rhinos have swept all five meetings by a total score of 176-43.
RHINOS IN SEASON FINALES: 4-1, including 42-8 loss at Harrisburg last year. The Rhinos are also 4-1 all-time when hosting Kids’ Day, which is always the last home game of the regular season.
LAST MEETING: The Rhinos celebrated Kids’ Day on 5/14/16 by erupting for 28 second-half points to break the franchise-record scoreless streak. Trailing 12-0 at the break, the Rhinos were electrified by Richard Settle’s acrobatic 55-yard touchdown run on the first play of the third quarter. Adrian Acevedo and DeAnte Weldon scored offensive touchdowns before Jack Isennock sealed the deal with a 34-yard pick-six in the closing minutes.
PLAYOFF SCENARIO: It’s simple for Franklin County- win and you’re in. It’s only slightly less simple for the Rhinos. In addition to needing a win, Hanover needs a Maryland Cannons loss at the Virginia Chargers. It will be a tough test for the Cannons (3-6), as the Chargers (8-1) rank 2nd in the league with a +193 point differential. That game kicks off at 6:00 PM.
In the case of a tie between the Rhinos and Tigers, the Rhinos are eliminated. The Tigers would make the playoffs with a loss by the Cannons, while the Cannons would earn the playoff berth with a win.
The opponent for the 4th seed will be determined by the outcome of the Maryland Cannons at Harrisburg Sharks game, which also kicks off at 6:00.
RHINOS’ OUTLOOK: No matter what happens from this point, this Saturday will be the last time the Rhinos play at Manheim Adventure Park in the 2017 AFA season.
However, that does not mean the Rhinos would not relish playing the role of road-warriors in their quest for an AFA Bowl VII Championship.
Head coach Noah Sneeringer has termed a 2017 playoff berth as “A big step in the right direction for the organization”.
In order to make their third playoff appearance in the last four years, the Rhinos must not change a thing from the Darkside Defense’s effort in the last game at the Cannons.
However, on offense, a big potential change is in store, as quarterback Chase Scharf has returned from his absence, and will be available in the signal-caller mix with Jordan Gardner.
Gardner already has one win as a starting quarterback over the Tigers, the 4th-quarter comeback he engineered on 3/12/16.
Will this finally be the week that DeAnte Weldon breaks Zac Carrick’s Rhinos’ career rushing record 448 yards? He has 4 quarters to pick up 23 yards, or spend the next 9 months contemplating what could have been.
Weldon has moved to within 6 yards of passing Carrick for 2nd on the Rhinos’ career all-purpose yardage list. Carrick compiled 870 ap yards in his Rhinos’ career.
Also making a move on the ap yardage list last game was Bernard Jackson. The running back cracked the 500 ap yard mark while sliding past Jeremy Knaub and Allen Neiderer for 6th in Hanover history. Jackson played his last game for the Rhinos last week, as he signed a pro contract with the High Country Grizzlies of the National Arena League.
Richard Settle retook the career solo tackles record from Lloyd Welford with his 9 solo stops against the Cannons.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS: Saturday might be the biggest game in Franklin County Tigers’ history. After 5 years split between the ECFA and MAFL, including a playoff appearance in 2011, the Tigers joined the AFA. In their first 5 years in the AFA, the Tigers struggled to a 6-38 record, with no playoff appearances.
“It would mean a lot to the vets that have been here since we started 10 seasons ago, and a building block for the young guys that have just joined the team,” Franklin County Tigers player/owner Josh Leininger said. “It’s definitely the game of the week.”
Defense is the hallmark of this squad. In week 2, they held the league’s highest-scoring team, the York Silver Bullets, to 16 points.
That was the last game tackling machine Doug Kilpatrick played for the Tigers before moving over to the Maryland Outlaws to fill their outside linebacker vacancy.
Even without the heart-and-soul of the unit, the Tigers’ defense has kept having fun this season.
They held the Maryland Phantoms to 22 points, and had a defensive shutout going at halftime of their second meeting with the Silver Bullets.
Driving the defensive engine has been the emergence of Isaiah and Chaz Keyes in the defensive secondary. Isaiah has the 2017 AFA interception lead firmly locked up heading into the final game. He has 17- count ’em- 17 interceptions in 9 games this season.
Hit-stick laying linebacker DJ Branche leads the AFA in tackles with 83. He’s joined in the ‘backer corps by Matt Reed.
Joshua Wheeler leads the charge up front with 6 sacks.
The offense has been a different story, as the Tigers racked up 106 points in wins over the PA Pharoahs and Susquehanna Valley Knights, but just 28 points in their other 7 games.