Virginia Beach 18, Rhinos 6
DUNDALK, Md.- It was a day of firsts for the Hanover Rhinos on Saturday evening.
Dustyn Lauver, Phoenix Russell, Jack Isennock, and Drequan Morris all recorded their first career sacks, and Jon Veitch recorded a rare feat for a defensive tackle, as he snagged his first career interception.
An, oh yeah, it was the new-look Rhinos’ first game of the season.
Things didn’t go as planned, as Hanover fell 18-6 to the Virginia Beach Rhinos at the AFA Kickoff Classic, but there is plenty of excitement after the first game.
Lloyd Welford generated a lot of that excitement when he tied Caleb Burns’ all-time Hanover record for interceptions late in the second quarter.
“It’s something to be proud of,” Welford said. “I take a lot of pride in what I do. It also feels like unfinished business. I want the record all to myself. So count on a couple more picks. Can’t help but wish we capitalize more on turnovers.”
Welford secured his 7th interception, picking off Virginia Beach quarterback Phonta’ Williams before racing up the field for a 27-yard return.
“Also think it’s pretty tight Caleb and I went to the same school and share the record,” Welford said. “I just want to get my offense the ball to do their thang.”
Welford’s play gave Hanover life following a difficult start to the game.
Hanover picked up just two first downs on its first 4 drives.
The first possession of the game began at Hanover’s 40-yard line after the opening kickoff went out of bounds. Two incompletions by Chase Scharf and a negative run by Zach Deneen led to a 36-yard punt by Phoenix Russell. The return man muffed the kick, but recovered as he was buried by Dustyn Lauver and David Harden.
The Darkside Defense took the field to christen the new season. It took it four plays to gain its footing.
Williams completed a 16 yard pass to Austin Gaylor, and Brian Cole broke a 12-yard run to the Hanover 37, but Virginia Beach hit a brick wall there.
Williams kept the ball on the next play, but he was stopped by Jordan Gardner and Veitch after a two-yard gain, and Adam Day brought down Dave Balmer after a 4-yard catch, setting up 3rd-and-4.
A false start penalty on offensive lineman Cliff Sanderlin made it 3rd-and-9, and Russell burst around the left end of the line to sack Williams for a two-yard loss. Russell swatted away Williams’ fourth down pass to turn the ball over on downs.
Scharf started the next drive with a crisp short pass to Hannibal Flores on the left, and Flores worked his way downfield for 14 yards. The drive came to a halt when Scharf’s third down slant pass to Dominic Cotterino was a little too far to the inside and was broken up.
Jarod Hayman hauled in a 14-yard pass from Williams, which pushed the ball to the Hanover 47 on the ensuing possession, but Darkside immediately threw the offense in reverse.
On 2nd-and-1, a bad snap was recovered by Williams, but he lost 10 yards. Hanover followed up with a corner blitz, and 2016 AFA all-star Jack Isennock got to the quarterback for his first career sack.
The first quarter expired as Williams’ punt hit and rolled to the Hanover 9 for 53 yards.
The flip in field position benefitted Virginia Beach greatly. On 2nd down, Bernard Jackson and Scharf had a mishap on the handoff, and the ball ended up on the carpet. Malik Harris recovered and thought he had a touchdown for Virginia Beach, but he was ruled down at the Hanover 2.
Williams hit Balmer in the back of the end zone with a 2-yard pass on the following play to put Virginia Beach up 6-0. The two-point conversion pass was dropped by Bruce Davis.
After a short kick and an 8-yard return by Isennock, Hanover started at its own 40 again. Scharf whipped a pass to Matt Aumen down the left hash on first down for 24 yards. After an incompletion by Scharf, Bernard Jackson pounded out a 9-yard run. On third-and-1, Jackson again got the carry, but was chopped down behind the line. Scharf’s 4th-and-2 pass to George Bell on the left was wayward, ending the drive.
Slinging the ball on first down, Williams eclipsed the 3,000 yard mark in his Virginia Beach career with a 14-yard dime to CJ Ingram. Two Phoenix Russell deflections sandwiched an 11-yard pass-interference penalty on Hanover.
On 2nd-and-10 from the Hanover 46, Balmer scooped up a low pass from Williams beyond the first down marker. The members of the Hanover defense looked toward the officials to signal incomplete pass; meanwhile, Balmer got up off the ground and took off down the away sideline. Amir Pearson chased Balmer down at the 9.
After a false start penalty on Virginia Beach, Drequan Morris recorded his first AFA tackle on a two-yard gain by Omar Grimes. Williams’ next pass tipped off his intended receiver’s hands, and fell into the hands of Gaylor, who was touched down by Russell at the 5.
On third down, Williams took off on a bootleg to the right, and clattered across the goal line for a touchdown and 12-0 lead with 6:03 left in the half. Grimes was stuffed and stripped on the two-point try by Nicastro.
Russell delivered an explosive 22-yard return on the kickoff, and Hanover started at the opponent’s 48.
Scharf hooked up with Jaton Herder on a stop-route for 4 yards to convert 4th-and-2, and the duo hooked up again for a 22-yard gain down the right side two plays later, pushing the ball to the Virginia Beach 14. However, Scharf’s next pass, also intended for Herder, sailed over the receiver’s head, and into the waiting arms of defensive back Darion Thomas.
A 6-yard pass to Balmer, coupled with a 15-yard facemask penalty on the tackle by Jordan Snyder started the next Virginia Beach drive with a bang. Morris plastered Williams for a 2-yard sack on the next play, forcing Virginia Beach to call a timeout with the game clock under two minutes.
“I just go out and play to leave everything on the field, and my mentality is no one player can block me when I have tunnel vision, and that sack signifies that,” Morris said.
On 4th-and-4 from its own 46, Virginia Beach went for it, but Welford picked the ball off and set up Hanover at the Virginia Beach 43 with just under a minute to go in the half.
Scharf threw an incompletion and was sacked twice, and time ran out.
Virginia Beach took the ball to open the third quarter, and two sacks, one by Dustyn Lauver, and one by Brandon Nicastro, forced the offense to third-and-21. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Williams dropped back to pass and looked left before releasing the ball. Nicastro raised both arms and batted the ball, which took off and went high into the air. Veitch, a 6’3, 330-pound defensive tackle, circled under the ball and pinned it against his chest as he slid to the ground.
Hanover’s bench erupted, however, the momentum the Rhinos gained was muted a little bit by a dead ball personal foul that backed possession up to the Virginia Beach 36.
On second down, Scharf’s throw deep down the left side sailed high and to the inside, and Lester Jones intercepted it before returning it 11 yards to the Virginia Beach 21.
Morris burst into the backfield from his defensive tackle position on first down, and he chased down running back Brian Cole for a 4-yard loss. Eventually forced to punt, Shawn Thomas became the center of disaster, as he fumbled the snap and was plowed under by David Harden and Nicastro at the Virginia Beach 4.
Hanover finally broke the seal on the scoreboard as Scharf hooked up with Flores on a 6-yard fade pass in the back corner of the end zone, pulling the score to 12-6 with 5:26 to go in the third.
Alex Elliott’s extra point kick was low and into the back of his linemen.
Morris was a wrecking ball on the next defensive series. He tackled the running back on first down, then hurried Williams on the next two plays, forcing incompletions on both.
Harden rushed the punt, forcing a 1-yard shank by Thomas.
Zach Deneen rumbled around the right end on the next play. He smashed through a tackler, but lost the ball. Hanover guard Jason Landis alertly fell on the fumble, however, Hanover was eventually forced to punt.
Harden and Russell rushed Thomas on Virginia Beach’s next punt, and this time he lost 3 yards on the kick.
Opportunity was staring Hanover right in the face as it started at the opposition 13.
Scharf scrambled for 5 yards on the first play, and the third quarter ended.
After the teams walked to the other end of the field, Scharf threw three straight incompletions, and Virginia Beach had dodged another bullet.
Hanover’s next drive began at the Virginia Beach 29, but it concluded with Scharf’s third interception, this one by Tay Simpson. Simpson flipped field position with a 30-yard return.
Virginia Beach took nearly 7 minutes off the clock with the following drive before finally ceding possession at the Hanover 33 with a little over 4 minutes left in regulation.
Hanover moved to the Virginia Beach 29 with 12 and 10 yard catches by Flores, along with a facemask penalty on the defense. Two plays later, Scharf’s toss to the end zone was picked off by Bruce Davis and returned to the Hanover 45.
With 1:58 to go, Hanover needed a miracle. Adam Day created the opportunity for that miracle by forcing Wendell Johnson to fumble on the second play, and Zach Deneen caused elation on the Hanover sideline by recovering the loose ball.
The excitement was short-lived, as Scharf was sacked and then threw three incompletions to effectively end the game with 26.5 seconds left.
Balmer scored a garbage time touchdown at the buzzer to make the final margin.
In the game, Scharf moved into third place on Hanover’s career passing yards list.