SPORTS>>Rhinos roll over Jaguars, 35-0
Leader sports editor
After a woeful offensive performance in their loss to the St. Louis Bulldogs a week earlier, the Arkansas Rhinos took their frustrations out on the hopelessly outmanned Arkansas Jaguars on Saturday night, improving to 3-1 with a lopsided 35-0 victory.
The Rhinos showed off their revamped up tempo offense for the first time at Jacksonville’s Bob Hill Memorial Stadium, though the game got out of hand in such a hurry, team owner and offensive coordinator Oscar Malone called off the dogs pretty quickly.
“What I liked was the way (quarterback Damien Dunning) checked off on several plays,” Malone said. “That’s the type of defense we’re going to play against (a 4-3) and his checks resulted in two touchdowns.”
Dunning was a surprise starter at quarterback and made the most of his limited opportunity, running for a touchdown and tossing a touchdown pass. Malone used Dunning, regular starter Jeremiah Crouch and newcomer Tye Forte equally in the contest.
Forte delivered the most impressive play of the night when he hit a streaking Tim Mason down the right sideline for a 54-yard touchdown pass midway through the final period to set the final margin.
“We’re fortunate enough to be able to get all these quarterbacks,” Malone said. “The problem is Forte came in so late with the offense. Crouch and Dunning have been here since day one.”
The North American Football League’s top-ranked defense pitched its second consecutive shutout at home and has now allowed only 30 points in four games. The Rhino ‘D’ was especially tough on the Jaguars, forcing four turnovers and limiting them to 122 total yards. The Rhinos totaled 236 yards, though they lost three fumbles in the contest.
The defense set the tone for the evening on the game’s first series, forcing three straight incompletions as the Jaguars opened up in a shotgun spread before switching to a wing T. Rhino safety Daniel Brown returned the punt 18 yards to the Jaguar 28, setting the theme for the night: the Rhinos began eight of their nine possessions in Jaguar territory and ran only three plays all night on their side of the field.
After Brown’s return, Brendan Medcalf ran for eight and nine yards. One play later, Dunning hit Stewart Franks at the goal line near the right sideline for a 16-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Jaguars tried to run one more set out of the shotgun, but Tarence Keatonpicked off a Justin Elliot pass and returned it 30 yards to the Jaguar 21. From there, it took only two plays. Jerald Marshall rushed 20 yards to the 1, and Dunning took over from there.
Less than two minutes later, the Rhinos added to their lead when Tyler Knight picked off a pass at the Rhino 43 and raced 57 yards before doing a flip into the end zone for a 21-0 lead with 5:39 left in the first period.
The Jaguars shifted to a wing T formation on their next series, but the hard-hitting Rhinos forced a fumble that was recovered by Antonio Anderson at the Jaguar 45. Matthew Stewart busted a tackle at the 30, cut outside and raced down the left sideline for a 45-yard touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
“Stewart looks like Donovan McNabb,” Malone said. “That’s what we call him. He’s a good one, but he’s unfortunate running behind two good running backs.”
The second half featured almost nothing but turnovers. The Rhinos fumbled three times, while Chris Johnson recovered a Jaguar fumble.
The only action of the second half came on Forte’s perfect strike to Mason, who caught the ball in stride at the right pylon for a 54-yard touchdown.
Because of their short field all night, the Rhinos ran only 25 offensive plays, going 3 of 5 for 93 yards through the air and rushing 20 times for 143 yards. Medcalf led the way with 65 yards on seven carries, while Stewart rushed six times for 49 yards.
Things figure to get significantly more difficult this Saturday when the Rhinos head to Nashville to face a team that has had their number of late. The Storm has beaten Arkansas the past four seasons after the Rhinos had won the previous seven.
“This is a big-time rivalry game,” Malone said. “We look forward to it every year. From here on out (the schedule is stacked).”
The Rhinos visit the Arkansas Wildcats the following week before returning home to face the Nashville Storm again on Aug. 15.