Big Plays, Penalties Doom Rhinos in Season Opener
WAYNESBORO, Pa.- It was a familiar refrain all day long for the Hanover Rhinos in their 2018 season opener.
First-and-15. Second-and-15. 3rd-and-15.
Snacktown’s warriors backed themselves into long-yardage situations all day, and gave up two big plays on defense en route to a 14-6 loss to the Franklin County Tigers in their highly anticipated debut on Saturday.
The Rhinos committed 9 penalties for a total of 63 yards, including getting flagged three times for false starts, twice for delay of game, and once for having too many players in the huddle.
Still, the Rhinos had more first downs than the Tigers, 10-8, and save for the two big plays, the Rhinos had the yardage edge 119-106.
The Rhinos won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. The Tigers responded with their longest drive of the game, an 8 play foray that ate up 41 yards in 8:03 of game time.
A personal foul on the Rhinos moved the ball to the Hanover 16 before what would have been a third down play, but the defense stiffened.
Jordan Snyder stuck to receiver Nate Huff like glue on third down, and swatted away quarterback Mark Cantu’s pass in the end zone to force a field goal attempt.
Roger Reitz came on to try the 34-yarder, but Dustyn Lauver sliced through the line and threw his body in front of the kick, blocking the attempt with a loud thud.
Hanover took over on offense and picked up one first down on a deep ball from Corbin Bailey to Melvin Velines. It was Bailey’s first completion as a Rhino and Velines’ first catch with the team.
The Rhinos were forced to punt, and Gary Ondecko, Jr. booted a 42-yarder to push the Tigers back to their own 22.
Reggie Russ gouged out runs of 7 and 14, but then the drive ended with some hilarity.
Darnell Thomas came on a safety blitz as Cantu rolled to the right. Upon not finding anyone open in front of him, Cantu turned back to his left and flung and off-balance pass off his back foot right into the hands of offensive lineman Calvin Noel. Noel caught the ball and just stood there with the ball in his hands, waiting for the officials to call the illegal touching penalty. The whistle was not blown for awhile, so Hanover defenders closed in and Noel dove on the ground to signify that the play was over.
Hanover declined the penalty to make it fourth down.
A three-and-out on the second Rhinos’ possession was marked by a Brian Eckard holding penalty that brought back a 14-yard run from Shawn Simmons on 3rd down.
Catching lightning in a bottle, Cantu fired a 16 yard pass to Elie Thomas on the ensuing first down.
After a delay of game penalty, he gunned for even more.
Isiah Keyes, the Tigers’ hero in the 2017 meeting with the Rhinos, subbed into the game as the outside left receiver for the next play.
Keyes tallied 303 all-purpose yards against the Rhinos on 6/3/17, and totalled an astonishing 1,381 all-purpose yards and 19 interceptions while primarily playing on defense and special teams in 2017.
After subbing into Saturday’s game, he cooked his defender on a streak route down the sideline and Cantu laid the ball out in front of him for an easy 56-yard touchdown to open the scoring halfway through the second quarter.
Pushing right back, the Rhinos marched down to the Franklin County 28 in 8 plays. On the drive, DeAnte Weldon converted a 3rd-and-6 with a 7-yard catch, moving him past Zac Carrick for second on the Rhinos’ all-time all-purpose yardage list with 871 career yards.
A pair of penalties pushed Hanover to 3rd-and-20, when Bailey found Velines for a 14-gain.
On 4th down, Bailey bootlegged to the left and found Adrian Acevedo open on an out route, but the tight end let the ball squirt through his hands, turning the ball over on downs.
The Rhinos looked to tie the game on the first drive of the second quarter, however, they ended up going three and out and abruptly found themselves down two scores.
On 3rd-and-7 from midfield, Cantu scrambled left and picked up the first down before angling back to the middle of the field. Charles Smith picked up the race from deep down the field where he was covering his receiver, but he never had an angle on Cantu, who outraced Smith to the pylon for 6 more points.
Reitz shanked the extra point, but it cleared the crossbar by two feet to put the Tigers up 14-0 with 11:08 left in the third.
Rhinos head coach Noah Sneeringer turned to the ground game on the following possession. However, after 12 and 4 yard runs by Simmons, the drive bogged down and was finished off by Chuck Gaines’ sack of Bailey.
The Rhinos, who did a great job of keeping the ball out of the hands of Isiah Keyes, got a huge scare on Ondecko, Jr’s punt. It sailed right into Keyes’ hands in the middle of the field, and he raced down the home sideline for 27 yards before finally being hemmed in by four Rhinos. A block in the back on Franklin County negated most of the return.
Keyes touched the ball just twice on Saturday afternoon, but still managed 79 all-purpose yards.
Lightning-quick Richard Settle threw Russ for a 5-yard loss to set the tone for the next drive, but the Rhinos’ defense almost got something much better.
On 3rd-and-15 from the Tigers’ 19, Cantu’s short pass to the right was behind Nate Huff and shot off his hands and into the air. Six-year Rhinos veteran Charles Smith placed both hands around the ball, but he was socked by Tigers’ tight end Josh Leininger, denying Smith his first career interception.
After the punt, the Rhinos took over the ball at their own 48 and began a drive that was intersected by the end of the third quarter.
Bailey, a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, scrambled for 12 and 9 yards, but the Rhinos faced 4th-and-3 from the Tigers’ 21 with 0.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Bailey stood tall in the pocket and stepped up before flinging an accurate pass to the back left corner of the end zone for Melvin Velines. Defensive back Brandon Brooks wrapped up Velines and mugged him, drawing a penalty that gave the Rhinos a first down at the Franklin County 16.
Pushed back to 3rd-and-15 early in the fourth, Bailey targeted Velines over the middle and had him again for a touchdown, but Isiah Keyes flew all the way across the field to swat the ball away at the last moment.
Instead of being forced to attempt a 4th-and-15 conversion, however, the Rhinos were bailed out by a roughing-the-passer penalty on the 3rd down incompletion.
Hanover pounded their way toward the end zone, and on 4th-and-1 from the Franklin County 2, Simmons was entrusted with the rock. He took a counter step to the right and then powered off left tackle, bulldozing his way across the goal line for the Rhinos’ first touchdown of 2018.
The Rhinos went back to the well on the two-point conversion, but Simmons was stuffed by a host of Tiger defenders, leaving the score at 14-6 with 10:37 to go in regulation.
Roland Johnson planted Cantu in the backfield for a 7-yard sack that short-circuited the next drive and got the Rhinos the ball back.
Hanover rushed Leininger’s punt and he got off only a 3-yarder, which Jordan Gardner picked out of the air while being blocked, causing Sneeringer’s heart to skip a beat.
The Rhinos took over at their opponents’ 29, but three straight throws by Bailey into double-coverage lead to a punt that Ondecko, Jr. knocked dead at the 5.
Cantu hit Leininger sliding over the middle for a key third down conversion with under three minutes to go, and then the Rhinos got gypped out of a timeout when they forced Russ out of bounds on a subsequent run, but the officials ruled incorrectly that forward progress was stopped.
The Rhinos got the ball back, but time ran out after a two-yard scramble by Bailey ended with a hit that separated him from his helmet near midfield.
The Rhinos take on the York Silver Bullets (1-0) in the home opener next Saturday, March 24, at 1 PM at Manheim Adventure Park.