Onward and Upward
The scores and results don’t matter at this point of the season, but that’s about to change.
The Hanover Rhinos finished their preseason slate with a 6-0 victory over the Baltimore Warhawks at home on Saturday afternoon.
The Rhinos (2-1) will now wipe the slate clean and head into the regular season, which begins in two weeks.
“Oh, it’s huge, especially after the season we had last year, only winning two games, to come out of the preseason with two wins,” Rhinos’ head coach Noah Sneeringer said. “It’s big for us going into the regular season.”
“Me personally, I’m ready for my (completion) percentage to go back to zero,” Rhinos’ quarterback Chase Scharf said. “I’m not happy with (36.4 %), but that’s one of the reasons for preseason, to work out the kinks. I’ll be looking forward to hitting full-stride with my teammates as brothers this season.”
The game was delayed by nearly an hour at the start due to a torrential downpour accompanied by lightning and strong wind gusts. Rhinos players were also pelted with hail as they gathered together in and around the Rhinos’ equipment trailer for shelter from the freezing conditions.
Following the game, the Rhinos and Warhawks engaged in a friendly, but spirited goal line mini-game, which the Warhawks won 3-1.
During the actual football game, the Warhawks’ offensive series’ were like a bug hitting a windshield, as Baltimore’s run-heavy attack was held to 22 yards by the Darkside Defense.
Darkside’s first unit yielded just 1 touchdown in 3 preseason games.
Brandon Nicastro, who recorded 3 unofficial sacks in the mini-game, started the actual game with a bang.
The teams took turns on offense, with each team getting roughly 10 plays on each series.
After fumbled snaps on the first and fifth Warhawks plays of the game, Nicastro hauled down scrambling quarterback Dontae Foster (BPD) behind the line. Darkside piled up 11 tackles for loss, including 2 sacks, on the afternoon.
Nicastro, who rejoined the Rhinos after a 4-year hiatus, and outside linebacker Richard Settle each racked up 3 TFL’s, with Settle stuffing running back Devon Scott (BCFD) behind the line on the second and fourth plays of the first drive.
Settle, who finished third in the league in tackles last season while playing at middle linebacker, has made the switch to outside linebacker this training camp, due to the incredible depth the Rhinos have in the middle.
“It’s great having Settle back,” Sneeringer said. “I think we may have found a home for him at outside linebacker.”
Nicastro and Settle passed the torch to another Rhino returning after a year away, Trey Seymour. Seymour dropped Scott for a 1-yard loss on the 6th play of the drive. Fellow defensive lineman Mark Davis followed with a sack in his first game for the Rhinos.
Baltimore hit one big play when Steven Reed plunged up the middle for 12 yards down to the Hanover 22, but Seymour brought the drive to a screeching halt when he forced an incompletion by dumping Foster in the mud.
The Rhinos’ hulking defensive tackle, who last played for the team in 2015, led the way with 5 solo stops on Saturday.
Hanover took over on offense, with backup quarterback Jake Orner getting his first start of the preseason.
The rookie from Dover completed his first two passes for a total of 7 yards, but two fumbled snaps and a sack pushed the Rhinos back.
On the back-half of the series, the running game made a valiant effort to advance the ball to the end zone.
First, fullback Michael Lowery burst up the middle for 7 yards. Then, Twon “Choo-Choo” Lyles found daylight outside left tackle before finishing off his 5-yard run by bowling over a defender.
Lyles finishes the preseason as the Rhinos’ leading rusher, with 54 yards on 8 carries (6.8 ypc), and the team’s only rushing touchdown.
With one play left on their drive, the Rhinos needed 49 yards to reach the end zone. Orner heaved up a wobbler along the left hash, aiming for Matt Aumen.
The former Germantown Gladiators receiver raced in to the hash and caught the pass while tumbling to a knee for a 21-yard gain, but the first offensive drive ended there.
Nicastro and Adam Day brought down Reed behind the line to open series two for Darkside, and 4 plays later, the Warhawks had advanced 1 total yard.
The Baltimore offense turned to quarterback Vincent Deloatch’s legs to try and move the ball down the field, however, Seymour blocked the way. He made the tackle on 3 straight plays, including reaching out and grabbing the ankle of DeLoatch (BCFD) to trip him up, preventing a huge gain. Seymour stood up, pumped his fist and let out a primal yell in celebration.
Hanover’s first offensive drive netted -2 yards. With starting quarterback Chase Scharf helming the second effort, the offense eliminated sacks and moved the ball a little further.
Scharf hit Charles Smith and Raymond Henry on 5 yard passes to the left. Lyles delivered one of the most physical two-yard runs you’re ever going to see when he sprinted left, picked up a block, and ran through the first man. The second defender hit him and Lyles still surged forward before being swarmed under by half the defensive unit.
Scharf threw two deep balls to the right to Dominic Cotterino, but neither was completed.
The first one sailed out of bounds to Cotterino’s right. Cotterino was streaking wide open down the right sideline on the second pass. He went up for the ball and surrounded it with his hands, but his soaked gloves and jersey did him no favors as the ball squired out of his control for a drive-ending incompletion.
“Guys have stepped up and are understanding both the route and the depth,” Scharf said. “We’re getting there.”
Darkside took the field once again, and started to wreak havoc.
David Harden blitzed and smacked DeLoatch for a sack and 6-yard loss to open things.
Then, the Rhinos nearly made a game changing play on defense twice.
Settle read the DeLoatch’s eyes and covered the short out on the next play. He reached up and got his right forearm on the ball, and sucked it into his body. However, the ball fell loose as Settle danced around in frustration.
Harden nearly had a pick-six in the right flat on the next play, when he successfully jumped up and broke up a short pass, but he, too, failed to haul the ball in. He received some good-natured ribbing about his lack of size from his teammates on the sideline.
DeLoatch completed a 9-yard pass over the middle shortly afterward, but the Hanover 38 was the farthest the Warhawks advanced on the possession.
On the next play, Reed took the counter handoff and headed for the hole, but Michael Minetos bumped into him while being blocked and Reed went down for no gain.
2016 team captain Dustyn Lauver silenced Scott on two straight plays.
The Rhinos then ensured the Warhawks wouldn’t score on the possession when Davis hurried DeLoatch, nipping the quarterback’s shoulder as he scrambled right, and Lloyd Welford jumped in front of the pass down the right sideline, knocking it to the ground.
The next time the Hanover offense took the field, they featured a new weapon.
Career defensive player Raymond Henry carried the ball for 3 yards on first down.
Then came an explosion in the burgeoning wide receiver’s game.
With the ball resting 37 yards from the Warhawks’ end zone, Scharf took the snap. He looked down the field and heaved a deep ball into space. Suddenly, a streaking red blur ran under the ball. It was Henry, and he caught the ball in stride at the five and took it into the end zone.
“Today was the first time I’ve been back on offense since I left the Rhinos (following the 2015 season),” Henry said. “I’ve gotten way better…when I see the ball in the air, I know it’s mine.”
Scharf raced 40 yards down the field and chest-bumped his receiver.
“Me and Ray go way back,” Scharf said. “When I got the ball, I saw the safety sitting shallow. As he ran up, Ray ran past him. Nobody’s going to outthrow Ray. Ray’s going to run it down.”
Lyles broke off two more incredibly physical runs on the series, one for 5 yards, and one for 11.
The game ended with the Rhinos at the Baltimore 31-yard line.