SPORTS>> Rhinos stumble
MEMPHIS – The Arkansas Rhinos suffered through a scoreless second half after the loss of two key players earlier in the contest and lost their first game of the season, 19-17, to the Memphis Panthers on Saturday at Halle Stadium.
Kicker Garrett Morgan nearly wound up as the hero for the Rhinos, but a 55-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds fell short by just inches. Morgan put the Rhinos up 17-7 with a 52-yard field goal at the 1:15 mark of the second quarter. He appeared to have made his second long boot of the night in the third quarter, but his attempt was deemed wide after sailing over the upright.
Tailback Brennon Metcalf was on his way to a season-high performance on Saturday when he broke his foot on a running play late in the second quarter. Metcalf had four carries for 87 yards and a touchdown up to that point, and his exit from the game affected the offense’s morale for the remainder.
It wasn’t just the offense that suffered a huge loss. Outside linebacker Tarence Keaton also went down in the first half with a knee injury that will also keep him out for the rest of the season.
Rhinos coach Oscar Malone was hoping to keep the winning streak alive, and was still feeling the effects from the setback at press time on Tuesday morning.
“I’m still shaken up over this loss,” Malone said. “It hurt our morale a little bit when Brennon went down. He could have helped our team out a lot this season. He was about to break that tackle when he went down, and that makes it even tougher.”
Malone said that along with Metcalf’s absence, lack of response to changes in the Memphis secondary hurt their chances in the second half.
“We just came out and missed assignments,” Malone said. “We didn’t adjust to the adjustments they made. They came out in a 3-3-5 with more defensive backs. On top of that, we had a lot of interceptions and dropped balls.”
The Panthers drew first blood with a touchdown run at the 4:27 mark of the first quarter, but Metcalf responded for Arkansas on the ensuing drive with a touchdown run at the 1:43 mark. Morgan’s extra point tied the game at 7-7.
The Rhinos struggled through the air for the most part on Saturday, but a 67-yard TD pass from quarterback Jeremiah Crouch to Kamal Broadway with 7:21 left in the first half gave the Rhinos the lead. Morgan then extended the lead with a field goal, but the Panthers closed the gap before the end of the first half with a touchdown that made it 17-13 at halftime.
Both teams battled through a scoreless third quarter, and most of the fourth. Memphis had the ball deep in Rhino territory at the 2-minute warning, and QB Nathan Hawke punched it in on a 15-yard bootleg run to give the lead back to the Panthers for the first time since the opening quarter. The Panthers missed their second two-point conversion attempt of the game, as the 19-17 margin stood.
Metcalf led the Rhinos in rushing with four carries for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Couch was 8 of 17 passing for 94 yards and a touchdown, along with two interceptions. For Memphis, Hawke finished with 70 yards rushing. The Rhinos fell to 2-1 on the season, while the Panthers improved to 3-1 on the year.
The Rhinos will host top-ranked Nashville Storm on Saturday at Red Devil Field at Jacksonville Middle School with kickoff at 7 p.m. The Storm will put a 4-0 record on the line, along with their No 1-ranking in the North America Football League.