Rhinos fall to rival, still in playoff hunt
THURMONT, Md.- With an 8-0 loss to the Maryland Cannons yesterday, the Hanover Rhinos failed to eliminate their rivals, and ceded control of their own destiny in regards to the final playoff spot in the AFA Northern Conference.
It all comes down to the final weekend of the regular season for the Rhinos.
The final game, which takes place in Hanover on June 3rd, is a head-to-head showdown with the Franklin County Tigers, a game which will likely be a winner-take-all play-in game for the 4th and final playoff spot. In the unlikely event that the Maryland Cannons upset the undefeated Virginia Chargers later that evening, the Rhinos would be eliminated.
Yesterday’s game featured a return to form for the once-dominant Darkside Defense. After giving up 88 combined points over the last two games, the defensive unit yielded only a 44-yard touchdown pass from Corbin Bailey to Desmond Powell in the third quarter.
Despite facing an average starting field position of their own 47 yard line, Darkside turned lemons into lemonade, stopping the Cannons from scoring on 8 of 9 drives.
Linebacker Richard Settle led the team with 12 tackles (9 solo), and now has an astonishing rate of nearly 3 solo tackles to every assisted tackle on the season.
Lloyd Welford extended his Rhinos’ career record with his 11th career interception, his 5th of the season.
Northeastern (York, Pa.) high school graduate Jordan Snyder had a banner day for the Rhinos. The rookie cornerback racked up a career-high six tackles, and added his first-ever interception and forced fumble.
Darkside’s heroic efforts gave the Rhinos all they could have asked for- a chance to win the game.
In the second half, 3 of Hanover’s 5 offensive drives penetrated Maryland Cannons’ territory, as the Rhinos made an effort at a comeback.
In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the second such of these drives pushed across midfield. Following a 10-yard run by bruising running back Drequan Morris, and a 5-yard penalty on the Cannons for having 12 defenders on the field, the Rhinos’ next snap came at the opponent’s 48.
Quarterback Jordan Gardner had to bend down to scoop up the next snap, which threw off the timing of the handoff with Morris. Gardner still tried to place the ball in Morris’ gut late, but Morris never had a chance to secure the ball and it fell to the turf, where Denard Smith recovered it for the Cannons.
On first-and-15, running back Juny Gonzalez scooped up quarterback Corbin Bailey’s fumbled snap, and turned the broken play into an 18-yarder to the Hanover 37.
Darkside ratcheted up the pressure on Bailey, with hurries by Zach Deneen, Dorell Blue, and David Harden forcing two incompletions.
On third down, the Cannons’ Andrew Geddie nearly ripped off a first down on a jet sweep, but defensive tackle Greg Ginter knocked him out of bounds 2 yards shy of the marker.
Fullback Josh Reyes got the call on fourth down for the Cannons, but Richard Settle shot through the a-gap and chopped the middle run down after only 1 yard.
With about 10 minutes left in the quarter, the Rhinos’ offense took the field knowing this possession may become their last opportunity to tie the game.
Jordan Gardner dangerously under-threw Matt Aumen on a deep route down the home sideline on first down, but the lanky receiver fought back through all-star defensive back DJ Gregory to force an incompletion.
Bernard Jackson, playing in his last game as a Rhino, took the handoff on second down and rumbled through Devin Johnson’s tackle attempt like a raging bull on his way to an 11-yard gain.
The Rhinos hurried to the line and caught the Cannons in the midst of a substitution, forcing Maryland to use a timeout.
Jackson crashed the middle for 5 yards on the next play, and Morris followed with a 7-yard run off right guard. The Rhinos picked up a second first down on the play when Maryland’s Kevin Bailey was called for a dead-ball personal foul, which moved the ball to the Cannons’ 18.
A holding penalty against Hanover on the next play could have dampened the Rhinos’ spirits and ruined the comeback effort. However, just as quickly as they got pushed back, Morris churned out a 12-yard run.
Morris, a converted defensive tackle who set a career high with 5 carries last week, broke that mark with 7 carries and 43 hard-earned yards vs. the Cannons.
Gardner’s next pass was deflected away by Gregory, but that only momentarily slowed the Rhinos.
Jackson, who signed with an indoor football team this week, tore off 12 of his team-high 46 yards to convert 3rd-and-9.
However, this was the high water mark in the Hanover comeback effort.
On 3rd-and-10, Jackson ran for 5 yards to the Cannons’ 15, but offensive lineman Mark Davis was called for a questionable dead-ball personal foul after a pancake block.
Gardner had no recourse except to toss the ball down the field on the next play. Pressured by blitzing linebacker Bryan Hammond, he threw the ball up for grabs off his back foot, and it was intercepted at the Maryland 5 by Matt Randolph. Randolph didn’t settle for the change of possession deep in his own territory- instead, he took off on a back-breaking 80-yard return that flipped the field. Jackson chased him down and corralled him from behind at the Hanover 15, but with 2:41 left on the game clock, the Rhinos needed a small miracle.
Asked to perform one more task, Darkside came through with flying colors.
Defensive tackle Roland Johnson stuffed Gonzalez on a first down dive play, and the Rhinos burnt their second timeout of the half.
Getting courageous, the Cannons called a play-action passon second down, but Dorell Blue surged into the backfield and yanked Bailey to the ground by the back of his shirt for his third career sack, and first since he had two on 5/9/15 at Fredericksburg.
Jordan Snyder ended the drive with a first-down saving tackle, stopping Desmond Powell 3 yards shy of the sticks on a 4th-and-14 passing play.
Hanover had a minute and a half to go 92 yards with no timeouts to try and tie the game.
The last-ditch effort started promisingly, as Jordan Gardner nailed Robert Hollis with a slant pass that the receiver took for a 30-yard gain over the middle.
However, after clocking the ball to stop the clock the drive, Conan Hankla nearly sacked Gardner and forced an intentional grounding call. Juwaun Huff’s sack pushed the Rhinos to 4th-and-35 from their own 13, and Gardner’s desperation heave for Amir Pearson was broken up, ending the drive.
The Cannons took the opening kickoff of the game. Dustyn Lauver, the emergency kicker, belted a 55-yard kick, then raced down and made the tackle on Quadri White.
Hard-charging linebacker David Harden made the tackle on each of the first three scrimmage plays of the game. Harden piled up 7 tackles on the afternoon, giving him a team-high 46 stops on the season. He also recorded 3 tackles for loss in the game.
Welford ended the first drive with a leaping interception, but following a 33-yard return, he was hit and fumbled, and Reyes recovered for the Cannons.
Two plays later, Snyder displayed his great closing speed to cut in front of tight end Marquez Smith on a deep pass. Snyder laid out and smothered the ball with his hands at the 10 as he fell to the ground.
Late in the second quarter, Snyder was beaten on a wounded-duck deep ball that was thrown up for grabs by Bailey on 3rd-and-10. Desmond Powell caught it and was tackled by Snyder at the 5.
However, Snyder made up for it two playes later. Settle stood up Reyes on a rushing play to the home sideline on the left, and Snyder ran over and peeled the ball loose, allowing Harden to recover it.
The Cannons got on the board first with 1:18 to go in the first half. On 4th-and-5 from the Rhinos’ 28, the long snap sailed over the punter Gardner’s head. Gardner chased it down and smacked it out of the end zone with a mighty whack, which was done in effort to save a potential touchdown opportunity.