Records Fall En Masse as Rhinos Rout Knights
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.- The Hanover Rhinos set or tied 13 team and individual records in Saturday’s game. The headlining performance was the rushing attack, spearheaded by the offensive line and a stable of running backs. The Rhinos rushed for a team-record 302 yards without an individual 100-yard rusher, and most importantly, earned their first win of the season, 32-0 over the Susquehanna Valley Knights.
After a frustrating season last year, an afternoon like this was especially satisfying.”It’s great, you know, coming off that loss in week one, and seeing the guys rebound like this to have a complete game,” Rhinos’ head coach Noah Sneeringer said. “Our guys showed up, long car ride, they showed up and we just ran the ball. Great team effort. Great o-line effort, and the defense was lights out again.”
It wasn’t always rosy for the Rhinos on this regal spring afternoon.
Through three quarters, the offense couldn’t capitalize on great field position and red zone opportunities, the same things that plagued them in the opener vs. Virginia Beach two weeks ago.
It took the highest-scoring quarter in Rhinos’ history for Hanover to score its most points in a game since 5/10/14.
Leading 4-0 on the strength of a single-game and single-season record 2 safeties, Snacktown’s warriors exploded for 28 points.
To truly capture the essence of the Rhinos’ scoring splurge, one must go back to the final play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
Susquehanna Valley’s Mathias Santos intercepted Chase Scharf’s heave to the end zone in the final 15 seconds of the third. However, when Santos attempted to bring the ball out, he was tripped up by receiver Matt Aumen, and downed at his own 2-yard line.
On the following play, the Knights ran a fullback plunge, but veteran linebacker Dorell Blue brought the ball-carrier down in the end zone for his first career safety. Roland Johnson, Sean Washington, Brandon Nicastro, and the rest of the defensive front also had a hand in the play.
Following the Knights’ free kick, the teams switched ends of the field for the fourth quarter.
Jake Orner made his debut at quarterback for Hanover on the first play of the fourth. However, it didn’t matter who was at quarterback on the drive, as Bernard Jackson got things rolling with a 12-yard run down the visitor’s sideline. Jackson’s facemask was grabbed on the play, tacking 15 yards onto the end of the run, moving the ball to the Knights’ 17.
After an incompletion by Orner, Jackson took the next handoff and raced up the middle. Wrapped up by multiple defenders at the 10, Jackson wouldn’t be denied. He muscled up and kept driving his legs, carrying a pile of defenders into the end zone for the touchdown. Alex Elliott’s first successful extra point since the 2015 playoffs put Hanover up 11-0 with 13:29 left in regulation.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jack Isennock swiped the ball out of the hands of the return man, and Amir Pearson recovered the fumble for Hanover.
After a short return, the Rhinos took over at the Knights’ 23.
It took one play to send the Hanover sideline into a frenzy.
Diego Simms took the ball and hit the gas pedal immediately. He raced around the left end of the line, slipped out of an ankle-tackle, and shrugged off another defender around the 10 before motoring across the goal line for his first Rhinos’ touchdown.
The Rhinos had piled up 16 points in 2:26 to stretch the lead to 18-0.
After a 39-yard kick return by Sha’had Harris set the Knights up at the Hanover 47, Darkside bowed its neck. Stefaun Rascoe and Sean Washington threw the fullback down for a loss on 4th-down.
Darkside gave up just 5 first downs and 18 rushing yards, a team-record for an away game.
Robert Hollis’ fumble gave the ball back to Susquehanna Valley, but a few plays later, Isaac Tynes jumped in front of Christian Diggs’ sideline pass for Dave Morales, and returned it to the Knights’ 25 for 27 yards.
Velton Stafford recorded back-to-back sacks of Orner, throwing the next Hanover drive in reverse.
Darkside had one more stamp to imprint on the game. Two plays into the next Susquehanna Valley drive, Isennock picked off a pass toward the visitors’ sideline and sprinted down the boundary, out-racing a cluster of Knights’ players for a 46-yard touchdown. Isennock now has 3 defensive scores in his first 12 AFA games, all of them coming in the last 4 contests.
Susquehanna Valley again went for it on fourth down, with Chris Temple catching a short pass to the left. Blue walloped him and brought him down 4 yards shy of the first down.
With a steady stream of reserves filtering into the game for the Rhinos, the ball kept rolling downhill.
Defensive tackle Drequan Morris was inserted into the backfield on the Rhinos’ last drive, and he plowed ahead for a 15 yard gain on his first carry. Morris closed out the scoring with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone with 1:54 left in the game.
Michael Minetos and Greg Ginter set career highs with two tackles each in the closing minutes.
Lloyd Welford returned the opening kickoff of the game 27 yards. He totalled 86 all-purpose yards in the game, moving him up to 8th on the Rhinos’ all-time list with 317 yards.
The offense came out of the block like gangbusters, as Jackson ripped off physical runs of 11 and 19 before the Knights started to bottle him up. The Rhinos reached the Knights’ 29 for 3rd-and-1, but Jackson was stuffed on one carry, and Scharf threw a fourth down incompletion.
Darkside gave the ball back to the Rhinos’ offense by forcing a three-and-out, but Hanover’s next possession ended in disaster.
Punting on 4th-and-18, the snap to Jordan Gardner only went about a yard, and Mark Davis fell on it for Hanover. However, the damage was done, as Susquehanna Valley took possession at the Hanover 25.
Jordan Gardner and Roland Johnson collapsed the left side of the line on the following play, and they both reached the quarterback at the same time, with Gardner ripping the ball loose. The Knights avoided disaster by recovering the fumble, but they still lost 5 yards on the play.
Two penalties on Susquehanna Valley pushed the offense back to the Hanover 40, and Charles Smith’s third down deflection forced a punt.
Jackson forged ahead to the Hanover 39 for 12 yards on the second play of the ensuing possession, but Scharf was picked off on the next play.
Roland Johnson had his first down sack negated by an illegal shift penalty on the Knights, and then David Harden dragged down the ball-carrier on the next snap for a 3-yard loss.
Harden, Nicastro, and Rascoe combined to stop Sha’had Harris on third down, and the first quarter clock ran out.
Jackson gouged the defense for 8 and 6 yard runs before he was stripped on the third play of the drive. Samir Sanders Dunn recovered for Susquehanna Valley at the Hanover 37.
Harris sprinted to the right on 1st-and-15, but he was quickly met by a Darkside swarm. Bounced around like a pinball, he kept fighting to stay up, but was ultimately finished off by Harden 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
On 3rd-and-32, Morris pressured Diggs and chased him right into Nicastro, who dropped him for his first sack of the game. Nicastro tied Kody Taylor’s Rhinos’ single-game record with 3 sacks. Darkside set a team record with 9 sacks in the game.
Hanover was about to take possession, but DeAnte Weldon fumbled the punt away at the Rhinos’ 25.
A team record that’s been a long time in coming was finally put to bed three plays later.
Diggs was pressured and hit on third down, and his throw sailed high. Waiting for the ball inside the five was safety Lloyd Welford. When he caught the errant pass, Welford set the Rhinos’ career record for interceptions, with 8, breaking a tie with his former high school teammate Caleb Burns.
Welford took off on an explosive return, gaining 44 yards, and setting another record. Welford now has 71 interception return yards on the season, breaking the old single-season record of 70, which was set by Isennock last year.
The offense did not capitalize on Welford’s play, however, and three plays later, they were forced to punt. Jordan Gardner booted a 37-yarder to pass Chris Bowlin for the most punting yards in team history, however, the play was far from over.
Harris caught the punt and took off down the home sideline, picking up a huge block on the way to a 58-yard return. However, said block was an illegal peel-back block, shaving 27 yards off the return.
Stefaun Rascoe blasted Diggs for a sack and an accompanying 8-yard loss, severely hampering the next drive.
Upon retaking possession, Hanover introduced Simms to life in the AFA. He took the handoff on back-to-back plays and gained 21 and 30 yards, giving the Rhinos 1st-and-goal at the Knights’ 4.
However, Hanover began to move backwards. The Rhinos were called for a false start, and they never recovered, advancing the ball only back to the 4 before Chase Scharf’s fourth down pass was short and behind Hannibal Flores in the front left corner of the end zone.
With 1:23 left in the first half, Susquehanna Valley looked to run the clock out and get to the locker room with the score tied 0-0.
Two unsuccessful running plays caused the Rhinos to burn one timeout, and a timing error saved the Rhinos their final timeout.
Diggs threw an incompletion on third down, leading to a punt.
With the shortened distance between the snap and the punter, who stood at the back of the end zone, the Rhinos jumped the snap and swarmed the punter. Roland Johnson got a big mitt up and swatted the punt out of the end zone for two points with 45 seconds left in the half.
The Rhinos failed to take advantage of their extra timeout, as Scharf threw a hail mary interception in the end zone. Amir Pearson chased down the interceptor to prevent a touchdown.
The Darkside Defense also set team records for fewest passing yards allowed (-3) and total scrimmage yards allowed (15). Alex Elliott set the team record for most extra points made in an away game (4).
One record thats pursuit was highly anticipated wasn’t set on Saturday. DeAnte Weldon came out of retirement this week, and he entered the game 53 yards shy of the Rhinos’ all-time rushing record, held by Zac Carrick.
Weldon rushed for 32 yards against the Knights, and while that leaves him still short of Carrick’s mark of 448, Weldon did pass Jeremy Knaub for second on the Rhinos’ all-time rushing list.
Hanover is scheduled to accept a forfeit victory next weekend. The Rhinos next take the field for the home-opener vs. the Maryland Phantoms on April 8th. There will be an Easter egg hunt for children at halftime.