Vipers 8 – 24 Rhinos
THE RHINOS QUALIFIED for the IAFL-1 with a 24-8 victory over the Donegal/Derry Vipers on Sunday.
Travelling to Limavady, the Rhinos knew they would face a hard-hitting, fierce challenge from the IAFL-1 North winners.
Before the game, head coach Barry Bolton told his side that “big-time players make big-plays in big-time games” – if that was the case, Bolton found big-time players across his squad.
The day could not have started any better for the Rhinos as David Hosford’s opening kick-off was spilled and the Vipers left pinned inside their own 10. A fumbled toss on the first play saw Bolton himself recover the ball, giving the Rhinos offence the ball on the Vipers 6.
It would take just two plays for the Rhinos to find the endzone, as Paddy Roche ran between left tackle Darragh McDonnell and left guard Finlay Dargan for a touchdown. Paul Hosford would tack on the extra to leave the Rhinos 7-0 up with scarcely a minute played.
That hard work from the Rhinos O-line – including Stephen Egan, Eric Fitzgerald, Chris Cullen, Bolton, Paul O’Donnell and Graeme Taylor – would see the unit named game MVP for the Rhinos.
That would be a lead the Rhinos would never relinquish, thanks in no small part to a mean defence that has shipped just 25 points in its last five games. Plays from Pat Noonan, Adam Skelly, Luke Ivers and Brian Martin meant that a strong Vipers running game couldn’t get a foothold in the game.
Skelly would create the next opening for the Rhinos offence after he wrestled the ball from a Vipers runner, allowing Rui Almeida to secure the ball.
The Rhinos offence wouldn’t be able to capitalise, with Paul Hosford’s field goal drifting wide.
The end of second quarter would see Skelly create another opening. He was quickest to react to David Hosford’s punt and downed the ball on the Vipers 2. Another solid defensive stand would see the Vipers punting from their own endzone and the Rhinos offence came out with not much time, but good field position.
Strong running from QB Paul Richardson and RBs Ian Fanning and Robert Pops would put the Rhinos just outside the redzone with time running out. That allowed Paul Hosford to hit a 44-yard field goal for a 10-0 half time lead.
The Rhinos offence took the field receiving the ball and feeling confident for the second half. Again, Richardson, Pops and Fanning led the way, with David Hosford and Roche adding yards before the QB was able to force himself into the endzone. Hosford again hit the PAT for 17-0.
The Rhinos D continued to hold fast with Karls McGlynn and Fanning covering the pass along with Gahan and Shane McKeogh adding pressure up front. That pressure would get the ball back for the Rhinos and two massive Richardson runs had them on the 15-yard line as the 4th quarter ebbed away. Richardson would break the line and rush into the endzone for his second TD of the day, with Paul Hosford again adding the PAT for 24-0.
The Rhinos D would be denied a shutout by the Vipers, who have shown this season they can pass on any team in the country. First a long pass was met with a high-point catch a run that McGlynn managed to end at the Rhinos 5. Then, after a number of stuffed runs, a well thrown and excellently caught slant put the Vipers on the board. A sweep for the 2PAT would make it 24-8.
The Vipers would attempt an onside kick, but it bounced into Bolton’s hands and the Rhinos O was able to salt away the ball to cap a brilliant victory.
Thanks to the Vipers for the hard-hitting, tough and fair game as well as their brilliant hospitality before and afterwards. After playing each other three times in a year, the Rhinos can say that the Vipers are a wonderful addition to the league both on and off the field.
We move on to the IAFL-1 bowl in Gorey on 12 August against the Craigavon Cowboys.