MECHANICSVILLE – At Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, the rallying cry for its athletic program is “The Hawk Will Never Die.”
The slogan was borrowed, in spirit and in result, on a chilly Friday night at Hanover High School as another group of Hawks, stymied in a scoreless first half, trailing by 16 points with 10 minutes left, found its offensive groove, scoring the final 20 points of the game for a 26-22 over archrival Atlee.
The victory assured Hanover (4-2) its first winning season since 2015, while the Raiders ended their campaign a disappointing 2-4.
The loss was a bitter one for Atlee, which lost its two contests to Hanover by a combined 6 points. Dejectedly leaving the field, the Raiders knew they let victory slip away.
Hanover spent the first half of the game seemingly aimless on offense. Nothing seemed to work. Atlee, on the other hand, built a 19-0 halftime lead as Eric Rankin scored twice in the second period on runs of 63 yards and 1 yard.
A different Hawk offense took the field at the start of the second half, racing down the field on a 54-yard drive that took less than two minutes. Levi Huesman’s first touchdown pass of the night was from 18 yards. A bad snap on the point-after try made it 19-6.
Then the Hawks stalled again. So did the Raiders, as neither team scored during the rest of the quarter. Hanover moved into Atlee territory late in the frame, but a fourth down pass from Huesman to Cole Elrod fell incomplete.
Another big Rankin carry, this time of 20 yards, placed the Raiders back in Hanover territory to end the period. But the Hawks ended the drive on a big defensive stop on third down from Grady Fahed, and Atlee settled for a 35-yard field goal by Zach Tschantre for a 22-6 lead with 9:53 remaining.
Hanover’s hopes were fading as the next Hawk drive ended quickly. But Huesman and company got the ball back with 6:40 to go and the team that showed some offensive flash at the start of the third quarter returned with a vengeance.
Huesman found Elrod for a 26-yard pass to the Atlee 42. Next, a 27-yard pass to Chase Flora put the Hawks in the red zone. Two plays later, Huesman fired a slant pass to Elrod for the score. In 62 seconds, it was 22-12. A critical 2-point conversion to cut the lead to one possession failed. It was time to go for broke.
The Hawks tried an onside kick and caught Atlee’s special teams napping. Hanover easily fell on the live ball at the Raider 45. The biggest crowd allowed for football this season, thanks to the Governor’s loosening on coronavirus crowd restrictions, erupted.
It erupted again 23 seconds later when Huesman, scrambling for his life, caught a glimpse of Charlie Rohr, who snuck behind the Atlee defense and was wide open. Rohr scored on a 45-yard pass and Hanover trailed 22-19.
The Raiders made another critical mistake on the ensuing kickoff, committing a personal foul and beginning their drive at their own 15. Three plays later, Atlee had to punt. Huesman had 2:48 to go, beginning the biggest drive of the game at his own 35.
After missing Flora on a first-down pass, Huesman lasered the ball to Elrod – in a dead run in double coverage – over the middle. When the ball landed in Elrod’s hands, the two Atlee defenders missed him, and he raced to paydirt to give Hanover the lead.
“They were right there. Levi Huesman put a great ball on me,” Elrod said. “That’s all I can say. He put a great ball, I caught it and I ran.”
The Raiders had a final opportunity, and Hanover aided it with a pass interference penalty. But with 1:36 left, Andrew Stevens’ pass was intercepted by Gavin Quinn, ending the final threat.
For Hanover, under first-year head coach Sam Rogers, it was a renaissance season, a glimpse of what could be. But with the Virginia High School League (VHSL) trimming the playoffs to four rounds instead of five, only the top four teams in Region 4B advanced to postseason play.
When the Hawks return in the fall, they’ll look to build on their spring success. They’ll find a familiar foe in their region, as Atlee moves from Region 5B to Region 4B, meaning that all four county schools, for the first time since the VHSL’s major reclassification of 2013, will compete in the same class and same region.
Elrod, however, acknowledged a special group before he left the field to celebrate.
“I’m super happy for these seniors, going out on a win like this,” Elrod said. “It’s huge, and it’s a great way to start our next year.”