Elimination marks end of an era
GLENVILLE, Pa.- In 6 years with the Hanover Rhinos, Adam Bostian filled every role at different times- player, equipment manager, head coach, defensive coordinator, player representative, and co-owner.
He’s been there through all the highs and lows since the clubs’ return to the field in 2012, and in many ways, has been the face of the organization.
On Saturday, that time drew to a close as the Rhinos were eliminated from playoff contention with a 43-18 loss to the Franklin County Tigers in the season finale.
It was the Tigers’ first-ever victory in 6 matchups with the Rhinos, and with it, the Tigers stamped their ticket to the playoffs.
“Missing the playoffs, yeah, it stinks, too,” Bostian said, “but, losing to a team that you’ve never lost to, I think it’s what’s the hardest for me.”
Bostian, who earlier in the year announced that he would be stepping down as co-owner of the Rhinos at the end of the season in order to spend more time with his family, shared hugs and handshakes with every member of the team and staff following the game, and then sat down with head coach Noah Sneeringer to discuss the future direction of the team.
Bostian is tied for second on the Rhinos’ all-time coaching wins list with 4, a mark Sneeringer figures to break next season.
While playing linebacker for the Rhinos in 2012, Bostian scored a defensive touchdown. In 2013, he was named an AFA all-star for the only time in his career, but never got to play as the league did not hold an actual all-star game that season.
In 2014, his first year following his retirement, he was in charge of all the team’s equipment, a role he still carried out on a de facto basis for the next 3 years, hauling around yard-markers, pylons, water coolers, and anything else the team used in his customized Rhino trailer.
With long-time head coach Jimmy Moffitt exiled following the 2014 season, the Rhinos needed a head coach. Guess who filled the role.
Though he preferred to be the owner, he stepped into the head coaches’ position in 2015, and led the Rhinos to their 2nd consecutive playoff berth.
At the start of 2016, Bostian stepped away from the sideline to focus on being co-owner, but the mid-season departure of then-head coach Ben Davis prompted Bostian to return as defensive coordinator for the final 3 games.
That led into the 2017 season, where Bostian was the mastermind of the Rhinos’ revamped Darkside Defense.
Bostian put the soul back in a defensive unit that allowed an average of 23.6 offensive points per game in 2016.
Darkside’s defense gave up just 17.5 offensive points per game this season, a 5 -point improvement from last year.
And, no one can forget the ejection Bostian picked up in 2012 for picking up and throwing an official’s penalty flag after a penalty was called against Rhinos’ head coach Shane Houser.
The Rhinos tried desperately to give Bostian at least one more game this season on Saturday afternoon.
A pair of late-week editions to the starting lineup led the way in an inspired first half for the Rhinos’ offense.
Running back Bernard Jackson, who signed a pro contract with a team in North Carolina two weeks ago, made the 7 hour trip to Hanover late in the week, citing ‘unfinished business’ as the reason for returning to the Rhinos for one more game.
Quarterback Jake Orner (shoulder) got the ok from his doctor late in the week, and he not only suited up, but started the game for Hanover.
Orner went 7-11 with a career-high 165 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, and he got the Rhinos’ on the board with a quick bolt of lightning.
On the first play of the second quarter, Orner executed a devious play-action fake that had the Tigers biting hard.
With safety Chaz Keyes pressuring him immediately, Orner rolled hard to the right to clear the defender before chucking an off-balance throw to tight end Chase Scharf, who was wide open over the middle of the field.
Scharf caught the pass 14 yards down the field, and suddenly found himself in open space. He turned on the jets, and desperately churned for the end zone while taking glances over each shoulder.
Sneeringer nearly kept up with Scharf stride-for-stride from the sideline on the 65-yard catch and run.
“The moment I left the line,” Scharf said, “I knew I was open. The safety bailed, and the linebacker bailed. Then, the ball’s in the air, and all I had to do was catch it. After the catch, all I had to do was score.”
Drequan Morris was stopped by DJ Branche on the two-point rushing attempt.
Still, Hanover led 6-0 in the fight for their playoff lives.
The excitement was short-lived, however.
Dustyn Lauver booted the kickoff down to the Tigers’ 16. There, Isiah Keyes caught the ball and darted up the middle. The speedster shook away from Stefaun Rascoe at the 30, then cut to the left sideline, and outraced everyone for his 7th non-offensive touchdown of the season.
Chris Koelsch’s extra point made it 7-6 Tigers.
Hanover jumped back on top with a special performance from Darkside.
Dustyn Lauver and Drequan Morris shut down back-to-back running plays, starting with 2nd-and-5, forcing a three-and-out.
However, the punt became a turnover, as the snap skidded away from Koelsch, who retreated to pick it up.
As Koelsch turned and tried to punt, Bernard Jackson crashed into him and knocked the ball loose. Lauver picked up the ball and rumbled 12 yards, falling across the goal line at the head of a pile of bodies for his first career touchdown.
Inspired by the two-way lineman’s effort, and spurred on by a little well-placed luck, the Rhinos pushed forward.
Isaac Tynes was selected to be the kickoff man for the Rhinos, and was instructed to squib the kick away from Isiah Keyes. Instead, Tynes struck the ball oddly, and it skimmed along the ground, spinning like a top before shooting hard to the left.
The ball barely went 10 yards, but David Harden pounced on it to secure possession for the Rhinos.
Facing 3rd-and-9 from the Tigers’ 40, Orner dialed up Hannibal Flores deep down the home sideline on the left. Flores stretched out and made an acrobatic catch with one foot down, dragging the other in bounds for the catch just before he went out of bounds. He crashed into one of the metal stakes holding up the rope around the field, bending it in the process.
Three plays later, Bernard Jackson put Beast Mode in full effect, as he carried a scrum consisting of 6 defenders the final 4 yards for a touchdown, making it 18-7 late in the first half.
Hanover was on the move for a back-breaking score in the third. Orner fired a pass to Scharf, who sat down and caught it for 20 yards, and then Orner flipped a short pass to Jackson that went for 24 yards to the Tigers’ 11.
However, on 3rd-and-12, Orner was pressured from the backside by Joshua Wheeler, and he threw to the end zone off his back foot while rolling right.
The pass was intended for Matt Aumen, and probably would have been incomplete at worst, but cornerback Brian Miller, Jr. got his fingertips on the ball and tipped it right into the hands of Isiah Keyes. Keyes took off running down the home sideline, coming painfully close to stepping out of bounds twice as the run was getting started. He cut back to the middle of the field to elude a would-be tackler at his own 10, then turned on the speed and raced untouched for a 104-yard touchdown return.
Orner was injured on the next possession when he was sacked and caught his cleats in the ground. Chase Scharf relieved him, and the offense went 3-and-out.
Franklin County put together an epic 12 play drive that was aided by back-to-back offsides penalties on the Rhinos on 4th-and-7 as the 3rd quarter drew to a close.
The Tigers converted another 4th-and-2 at the Hanover 35 when Josh Leininger hit Eli Thomas with a 5-yard pass to the right.
The Tigers picked up three 1st downs on the next five plays, culminating in Garrett Davis’ go-ahead 6-yard touchdown reception from Leininger.
Franklin County jumped to the 22-18 lead with 9:58 to go.
Koelsch kicked field goals from 38 and 32 to put the game away. Isiah Keyes recorded a 60-yard interception return for his 3rd non-offensive touchdown of the day in the final minutes.