Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

SPORTS>> Rhinos play keep-away in easy win

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Payback was both sweet and decisive for the Arkansas Rhinos on Saturday.

The Rhinos routed the Memphis Panthers 34-6 at Red Devil Field behind another impressive performance by running back Jerald Marshall. Keeping possession of the ball for an amazing 49 of the game’s 60 minutes, they improved to 4-2 on the season and put themselves back in the hunt for a NAFL playoff spot.

“We came out and had good ball control all night,” said Rhinos head coach Oscar Malone. “Our offense stayed out a lot, our defense played minimal. We seemed to get our confidence back and got back to playing Rhinos football, which is hitting hard, running fast and having fun.”

The win avenged a 19-17 loss to the Panthers on July 26.

The temporary departure of offensive coordinator Scott Breeze put the clipboard in Malone’s hands, and the result was 235 yards of total offense and three offensive touchdowns for the Rhinos. Breeze put himself on voluntary leave after a sideline altercation with a player a week ago against Tri-City. He could potentially return for the postseason.

The defense continued to dominate for the Rhinos as Memphis got its only score of the game in the third quarter on a fumble return. A Panther defender knocked the ball out of quarterback Jeremiah Crouch’s hands after a blistering hit, and another defender scooped it up and took it 39 yards for the score.

But that was the end of the Panther highlights. Memphis began to threaten late in the first half, but a pair of interceptions by Ben Witcher and veteran Marcus thwarted first-half drives.

No one ran faster or harder than Marshall on Saturday, who had his second straight 100-plus yard game with nine carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

His heroics were not limited to offense, however. After a touchdown pass from Jeremiah Crouch to Josh Dixon put Arkansas up 10-0 at the start of the second quarter, Marshall recovered the ensuing kickoff in the Panthers’ end zone to give the Rhinos a 17-0 lead at halftime.

Kicker Garrett Morgan also had another big game for the Rhinos. Morgan put the first points of the night up for Arkansas with a 42-yard field goal mid-way through the opening quarter, and hit his second of the night when the Rhinos’ first drive of the second half stalled at the Panther 14-yard line. This time, it was a 39-yard boot that put the Rhinos up 20-0.

The Panthers’ defense cut that lead to 20-6 with their fumble return, but it didn’t take long for the Rhinos to answer. Marshall took the handoff from Crouch on the first play of the fourth quarter and scurried 75 yards for his second score of the night.

Arkansas linebacker Jerry Hill set up the final Rhinos score of the game when he forced a Panther fumble at their 8-yard line. Ronnie Marshall fell on it for the Rhinos, and QB Damien Dunning snuck in from a yard out two plays later to set the final margin.

While passing accounted for only 38 of the Rhinos’ 235 yards, Malone wasn’t too concerned.

“We seem to give up one or the other,” Malone said. “When we move the ball passing, we can’t rush. When we move it rushing, we can’t seem to pass. If we can run well and have that kind of ball control, the passing situation is not that critical.”

Crouch completed 3 of 9 pass attempts for 26 yards and a touchdown.

The Rhinos will host the River City Cats this Saturday at Red Devil Field, with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.