Hanover’s Johnson leads North in rushing during All-Star Game
WOODLAWN, Md.- Despite the lackluster execution that is present at most semi-pro football all-star games, the 2017 AFA All-Star Game was memorable for an unlikely reason.
The Southern Conference won the game 18-0, but unlikely offensive hero Roland Johnson injected a ray of sunshine into the game for the Northern Conference.
Johnson, a defensive end for the Hanover Rhinos, had more carries (4) in the All-Star Game than he had all season including the preseason (2), and was the leading rusher for the Northern Conference with 22 yards.
“I’m really happy for him because he’s been wanting the ball all season,” Rhinos’ offensive lineman Dustyn Lauver said. “And for him to get it for the All-Star Game and lead in rushing, it’s a good feeling for everyone.”
It wasn’t a dominant day for Johnson, but for one glorious moment Saturday, he was on top of the world.
In the huddle following the second play of the third quarter, it was announced that Johnson was going to get the ball.
He had done very little with his 3 carries in the first half, totalling a one-yard loss.
“When I heard he was getting the ball, I told him run behind me,” Lauver said with a laugh. “But, I told him, ‘Time to shine, big man. Show them what you got.’ And he did.”
Johnson took the handoff from quarterback Howard Holton and immediately surged ahead further than he had all game.
After testing the middle for about 4 yards, Johnson was wrapped up and seemingly completely stopped by a gang of 5 defenders. The play seemed over.
However, Johnson, taking nothing for granted, kept driving his legs and pushing the pile down the field, picking up a couple of extra yards in the process.
Then, something magical happened.
Johnson broke free of his restraints and rumbled into the wide-open field, eating up yard after yard.
“I just kept my feet moving,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t gonna be denied, and it felt great getting the offense moving.”
When he finally was opposed by Virginia Beach’s Steven Brown, Johnson delivered a stiff-arm so complete in its power that he shoved the defender’s helmet up his face and clean off his head.
As the helmet clattered to the ground, Johnson was run out of bounds, and a penalty flag also fluttered to the ground.
The net result of the 23-yard run was dimmed by a 15-yard facemask penalty on Johnson, however, nothing could dim the aura of the run for all who had witnessed it.
“It’s not the most exciting play I’ve been a part of on a football field, but, it adds to the memories,” Johnson said.
It all took only a few seconds, but the play created plenty of emotion.
Johnson’s Northern Conference teammates jumped up and yelled and cheered for the big fellow, who had just delivered the spark of the game for the blue-clad All-Stars.
Unfortunately, it would be one of the few sparks for the North, as it was ultimately the South’s day.
Hanover’s David Harden combined with Johnson to make the tackle on the first play from scrimmage in the game. It was a 2-yard run by Anthony Hunter.
The first score of the game was put on the board on a lightning-quick one-play drive late in the first quarter.
Dominique Fitzgerald of the Virginia Storm dropped back and heaved a deep ball down the right sideline toward his Storm teammate Mark Boyd.
A pair of regular season rivals-turned-teammates lurked in the secondary as the ball came down.
Lloyd Welford of the Hanover Rhinos, and Darnell Thomas of the Maryland Cannons both flew toward the ball like speeding rockets, ultimately colliding and knocking each other down as Boyd caught the ball at the 25 and jogged into the end zone on a 54-yard pass-play.
Franklin County’s Garrett Davis broke through the a-gap on the extra point try, forcing the kick by 61-year old Al Lynch to go wide.
Lynch thumped the following kickoff to the back line of the end zone for a touchback with a mighty grunt.
The North’s first two offensive possessions lasted for 10 and 13 plays, respectively, but failed 4th down passes ended them in Southern territory both times.
Hanover Rhinos’ defensive end Zach Deneen picked up an assisted tackle on a scramble by Star City Rebels’ quarterback Shemaiah Adams on the 4th Southern drive of the game late in the second. Stefaun Rascoe’s pass-breakup forced the South to 4th-and-16 at the North 40 on the next play.
Harrisburg’s Shiheed Custis picked off Adams on 4th down, and Custis returned the ball to the South 42 with under 2 minutes to go in the half.
However, Deshawn Wooten of the Virginia Storm returned the favor by intercepting North quarterback Josh Leininger’s pass to the left flat, and Wooten returned it 53 yards down the home sideline for a score.
Johnson’s run on the first possession of the third quarter was wasted when Holton threw up a duck that was intercepted by Steven Brown.
The Hanover Rhinos’ players featured heavily on the North’s first defensive stop of the second half.
Omar Grimes of Virginia Beach was stopped after a five-yard run on first down by a combination of DJ Branche and Hanover’s Stefaun Rascoe.
On third down, Johnson flushed Adams out of the pocket to the right, and dumped him to the ground, forcing a wobbly incompletion.
David Harden killed the drive off by swatting down Adams’ 4th down pass, and the North took over at the South 28.
An incredible acrobatic catch by Doug Kilpatrick gained 19 yards and moved the ball down to the South’s 13-yard line, but Holton’s ill-advised pass on the next play was right to Wooten in the end zone.
Lynch attempted a 41-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that fell inches short of the crossbar.
Wooten caught a 17-yard touchdown pass in the back right corner of the end zone from Phonta’ Williams as time expired in the game.
Wooten was awarded the Southern Conference MVP for his 2 interceptions and 2 touchdowns.
Doug Kilpatrick, who started the year with the Franklin County Tigers before finishing the season in another league, earned MVP for the Northern Conference. He snagged 4 passes for a team-high 43 yards, and led the way defensively with 9 tackles (7 solo) and 3.5 tackles for loss.