Rhinos Sweep Knights, Vault Into Final Playoff Spot
GLENVILLE, Pa.- It took until 9:35 PM Saturday night, but the Rhinos now know they will be staying in playoff position for the rest of the week.
Late at night, the York Silver Bullets put the finishing touches on their 36-0 victory over the Franklin County Tigers.
That, coupled with the Hanover’s 36-6 thrashing of the Susquehanna Valley Nights earlier in the afternoon moved the Rhinos (3-3) ahead of the Tigers (2-4) for the 4th and final playoff spot with four weeks to go in the season.
A revamped passing attack led the way for the Rhinos, as both starting quarterback Jake Orner and backup Jordan Gardner threw touchdown passes.
Orner had career highs across the board, but his 95 passing yards were the most impressive.
A wild start to the game featured multiple turnovers.
The Darkside Defense took the field first, and forced the Knights to go three-and-out on the strength of a pass deflection by Charles Smith, and a strong tackle for loss by Sean Washington.
However, Vic Wanamaker’s short punt hit Smith in the leg while he was blocking upfield, and Christopher Brown recovered for the Knights.
Pressed into duty again, Darkside forced another three-and-out. Brandon Nicastro sacked Austin Mitchell for a two-yard loss on second down, and Trey Seymour and Greg Ginter combined to bring him down for another two-yard loss on the next play, forcing a punt.
Three plays into the Rhinos’ first drive, Orner’s pass over the middle for Diego Simms was intercepted by Brian Hunter.
It took the Knights one play to give the ball back, as quarterback Jerrod Heil’s pitch to the running back was errant, and Adam Day recovered for Hanover.
Hunter stuffed Orner’s third down pass at the line on the next drive to force a punt, but Jordan Gardner’s 31-yard punt bounced up into return man Anthony James III. The ball hit James III in the legs and fell to the ground, where the Rhinos’ Zach Deneen plowed in head first and jumped on the ball for his second fumble recovery of the season.
Starting at the Knights’ 32, the Rhinos’ offense went to work.
Phoenix Russell ran for 7 yards on a reverse, then, an incompletion forced 3rd-and-3.
Orner took the snap and faked the handoff to Bernard Jackson before tucking the ball away and scrambling around right end. With a defender blocking his path to the first down, Orner lowered his shoulder and welcomed the contact. A pileup occurred, but Orner surged forward to get just enough for the first down.
A 12-yard tunnel screen to DeAnte Weldon was cancelled out by Vic Wanamaker’s sack on the following play.
On 3rd-and-goal from the 20, Orner dialed long distance. He threaded the needle to Matt Aumen over the middle at the back line of the end zone. Aumen caught the ball and toe-tapped for his first Rhinos’ touchdown as he went between the goalposts.
Alex Elliott’s extra point kick went through the goalposts as well to make the score 7-0 with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
Nicastro was a wrecking ball on the next series.
After Elliott’s 64-yard kickoff resulted in a long field for Susquehanna Valley, Nicastro sacked Mitchell once, and then brought down Vic Wanamaker in the end zone on a fake punt for a safety on the first play of the second quarter.
Bernard Jackson returned the free kick 35 yards to the Knights’ 30.
Orner hooked up with Jackson over the middle for 16 yards to convert 3rd-and-6, then Jackson rampaged into the end zone from five yards out, running through a tackler at the 1 before reaching the end zone standing on his feet.
Leading 16-0, Darkside looked to put the hammer down on the Knights’ offense.
On 3rd-and-15, Heil completed a swing pass to the right to Nyjeer Mosley. Charles Smith came up from the secondary and confronted Mosley, grabbing him and slowing him down. Smith, realizing his hand was on Mosley’s facemask, let go as David Harden wrapped up the ball carrier and rode him out of bounds.
Darkside still had more work to do, as the Knights went for it on 4th down at their own 12. Heil’s pass was incomplete high, intended for Jeff Bretz on the left.
The next drive bogged down, and Elliott was summoned for a 34-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked.
Phoenix Russell picked off Mitchell to end the ensuing drive, setting up the Rhinos’ offense at the Knights’ 30.
The Rhinos turned the ball over on downs when Russell’s halfback option pass sailed over wide open DeAnte Weldon’s head in the end zone on 4th down.
Russell made up for it very quickly.
The Knights took possession, and Heil dropped back to pass and fired the ball out to the left, where Russell was waiting.
The Bermudian Springs graduate intercepted the ball and took off down the away sideline. With Heil in his peripheral vision, Russell cut back inside the 10, leaving the quarterback in the dust as he finished off the 37-yard touchdown return.
Hanover led 23-0 at halftime.
On the first snap of the third quarter, Bernard Jackson took the handoff and ran right. Hemmed in and dead to rights behind the line, Jackson twisted through a tackle attempt and bounced the ball back to the left. As he approached the line, he found a lane and burst through it. He was kept out of the end zone by the last defender, Christopher Brown, but only after a 27-yard gain.
Toward the end of an uneventful third quarter, Jackson and Robert Hollis had a mishap on a double-reverse and the ball ended up on the ground, where it was recovered by Brian Hunter of the Knights.
Staked to great field position at the Hanover 21, the Knights moved the ball to the 1 when Hanover was called for pass interference on the first play of the drive.
Two plays later, Ronald James caught a swing pass from Mitchell in the right flat and outraced Adam Day to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown with 1:35 left in the quarter.
The two-point try failed as Mitchell was hit and fumbled as he rolled left.
Orner’s 34-yard deep completion to Amir Pearson on the penultimate play of the quarter went for naught as the Rhinos were unable to finish the drive with a score.
The following Knights’ drive came to a halt when Roland Johnson flushed Heil from the pocket on third down and grabbed him from behind for his 2nd sack of the game, a career high.
Jordan Gardner took over at quarterback for the Rhinos, and he galloped for 14 yards on a broken play on first down.
He followed that up with a roll to the left and a majestic heave to Russell in the back corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass, Gardner’s first since 4/9/16.
The Rhinos got the ball right back on the kickoff. Stefaun Rascoe and Amir Pearson high-lo-ed Darius Crenshaw, with Rascoe’s hit forcing the ball loose.
Twon “Choo-Choo” Lyles recovered the fumble.
On 4th-and-7, Dominic Cotterino equalled his career long with a 22 yard reception down to the 5.
With seconds to go, Gardner kept the ball on a beautifully executed read-option keeper, and ran around left end. With defenders closing in, Gardner stretched out, penetrating the end zone with the ball just inside the pylon for his first career rushing touchdown.
With the win, head coach Noah Sneeringer tied Adam Bostian for 2nd in Rhinos’ history with 4 wins.
DeAnte Weldon crawled closer to the Rhinos’ career rushing record, with his 5 yards leaving him 15 short of passing Zac Carrick’s 448 yards.
The Rhinos next game is next Saturday night at 7 PM, at the Maryland Phantoms. Catch all of the action from Leon Day Park live on Rhino Charge TV and the George Marinos Facebook Channel, starting with the pregame show at 6:55.