Rhinos Fall to 5th With Loss
BALTIMORE, Md.- A lot of things would have had to fall into place for the Hanover Rhinos to catch the Maryland Phantoms and win the East Division Championship heading into the final four games of the regular season.
With Saturday night’s 35-6 loss to the Phantoms, the Rhinos can now officially focus on their more realistic goal of making it back to the playoffs.
The Rhinos (3-4) fell to 5th place in the Northern Conference, as Franklin County’s (3-4) 64-0 win over the Susquehanna Valley Knights moved the Tigers into the final playoff spot based on tiebreakers. Hanover and Franklin County meet in the final week of the season in Glenville.
Saturday night’s game wasn’t without its magic moments.
Trailing 14-0 at the half, the Rhinos received the opening kickoff of the third quarter.
After a squib kick set the Rhinos up at midfield, Jordan Gardner, making his first start of 2017, got the ball in the hands of playmaker DeAnte Weldon with a short pass along the boundary.
Weldon turned on the jets and burst down the sideline before cutting to the middle of the field and finding more room to run. He almost made a house-call, but was tripped up at the 3-yard line.
From there, two Bernard Jackson runs out of heavy formation netted a loss of two yards.
In between the two runs, Hanover burnt their first timeout of the second half.
What they drew up for third down was a tight end dump pass to defensive end Brandon Nicastro, however, the right side of the line broke down, and Gardner had to throw off his back foot. The pass landed at the feet of Nicastro all alone in the end zone.
Hanover burnt another timeout ahead of the momentous fourth down play.
Out of the stoppage, Gardner tried the dump pass again to Nicastro, who was wide open on the back side of the play for a second straight time.
Gardner’s throw sailed just a little bit, but Nicastro threw up his big right arm and gently tipped the ball back toward himself, allowing his other arm to nestle the ball against his chest protector for his first career AFA catch and offensive touchdown.
Nicastro scored a defensive touchdown against the Maryland Phantoms in 2012.
Gardner didn’t hook up with his intended receiver, Phoenix Russell, on the two-point try, leaving the score 14-6.
However, Nicastro’s catch caused a magical feeling called momentum to spread on the Rhinos’ sideline.
The Darkside Defense picked up the fight on the ensuing possession, twice pushing the Phantoms back.
Cuan Edwards’ 2nd down pass was complete to Corday Bethel, however, Russell raced up from the linebacking corps and flattened the ball-carrier for a 5-yard loss.
On third down, Zach Deneen sacked Edwards to force a punt.
Deneen, who came in with no sacks on the year in this his AFA rookie season, left Dunbar High School Football Field with 3 sacks, tying the Hanover Rhinos’ single-game record.
A penalty and a sack pushed the Rhinos’ offense back to their own 25, but a roughing the passer penalty and a dead-ball personal foul turned a 3rd-and-22 into a first down at the Maryland 45.
Getting fancy, the Rhinos called a jet sweep to Russell, however, Gardner mishandled the exchange with his receiver, and the ball fell to the turf, where Dwayne Barry recovered for the Phantoms after a moderately wild scramble.
With only 52 yards separating the Phantoms from the end zone, Darkside went to work.
Defensive tackle Dustyn Lauver bottled up Shanorm Young after a 4 yard gain on first down to set the tone for the series.
Young, who came in as the second-leading rusher in the league, and who torched the Rhinos for 123 yards and 3 scores a month ago, was held below 4 yards per carry in a game for the first time this year Saturday night. He had 8 carries for 35 yards and did not reach the end zone after recording multiple touchdowns in every game this season leading up.
On second down, Deneen wrapped up Edwards for a six-yard loss, picking up his third sack, and tying the record that Nicastro has been trying desperately to break this year.
Deneen joins Nicastro and Kody Taylor as the only Rhinos ever with 3 sacks in a game.
Momentum reached a high point for the Rhinos as Isaac Tynes tackled Larry Ray to set up 4th-and-5, and Corday Bethel’s third dropped pass of the game turned the ball over on downs.
It’s said that football can be a game of inches- it was in the third quarter Saturday night.
The Rhinos’ next offensive possession began with Gardner firing a crisp pass to Robert Hollis, who was running a slant over the middle.
The ball was exactly where it needed to be, and heading right for the hands of Hollis, but at the last moment, Barry swatted the pass away.
On second down, Gardner’s short pass to the right was intercepted by Dante Hines, who streaked into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown return and a 21-6 lead.
Instead of sulking, Gardner went to the sideline and discussed where the play went wrong with Deneen. Aware that he was being pulled from the game in favor of Jake Orner, Gardner was still the first to volunteer when the Rhinos were a player short on the front line of the kickoff return team.
Orner’s first drive ended with an interception that Anthony McGlaughlin, Jr. returned 44 yards to the Hanover 3, where we was stopped by a hustling Russell.
Two plays later, Hines tumbled across the goal line for a touchdown on a stretch play, and then proceeded to engage in a vulgar celebration that earned him a penalty flag.
The Jake-Orner led offense gained rhythm and began to move the ball on the next drive.
The Dover High School math teacher completed a short dump-off to Bernard Jackson for 6 yards, then completed a 9-yard pass to Russell for the first down. Orner converted with another first down an acrobatic pass to Phoenix Russell while parallel to the ground with Gerard Nelson wrapped around his legs.
The play went for 17 yards and put Hanover at the Maryland 26.
Orner raced for 9 yards on the next play, and absorbed a questionable hit while sliding down, but no penalty was called. To make matters worse, the officials short-changed the Rhinos a down. It should have been 2nd-and-1, but was called 3rd-and-1 out of a Phantoms’ timeout.
Phoenix Russell was hit hard by Erik Johnson for a 1-yard loss, and on 3rd down, Orner threw a deep incompletion to the front right corner of the end zone, and the officials gave the Phantoms the ball on an incorrectly credited turnover on downs.
The Phantoms ground the clock down with an 11-play 80-yard drive that ended in Keith Smothers’ touchdown pass to Erick Foster, accounting for the final margin.
The Phantoms scored first on the second play of the second quarter, when Edwards hooked up with Larry Ray down the right hash for a 45-yard touchdown.
Hanover’s next possession ended in punt, and Gardner rocked a 58-yard boomer that bounced down to the one. Kevin Griffin, Sr. scooped the punt up at the 1, and was tackled at the 7 by Dorell Blue and Zach Deneen.
The first sack of Deneen’s career on the following possession helped give the Rhinos’ offense great field position at the Maryland 42, but Hanover did not take advantage.
Weldon closed to within 14 yards of passing Zac Carrick for second on the Hanover Rhinos’ career all-purpose yards list.