By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
Denmark began their 2020 campaign with a new head coach, without their starting quarterback and with three consecutive losses.
Since then, they’ve launched into region play with two consecutive wins — the most recent a 21-0 shutout of visiting Forsyth Central, which averaged 29 points per game going into Friday night’s matchup against the Danes.
“We struggled with some guys being out,” first-year head coach Mike Palmieri said. “We didn’t make any excuses. We battled the first three games, even if the score wasn’t what we wanted. But we were getting better every rep in practice — and we practice hard.”
Once of the missing players Palmieri alluded to was starting quarterback Aaron McLaughlin, who showed once again Friday night just how much more potent the Danes’ offense is when he’s under center.
McLaughlin completed 10 of 18 passes for 73 yards while also rushing 18 times for an additional 60 yards —one of those runs coming on a 1-yard keeper midway through the first quarter that accounted for the only points in the first half, with several others resulting in third-down conversions and largely accounting for the only real offensive production for either team by the halfway point.
Denmark’s running game found its stride in the second half, with four different ball-carriers hitting double digits.
Senior Casey Gunn scored the second touchdown of the contest midway through the third quarter on a forward lateral from McLaughlin.
“We’ve got some pretty good athletes on offense,” Palmieri said. “We thought we were a little faster than they were on the edges. We kind of played behind the chains. We had too many penalties in the first half, and we cleaned that up in the second half, played some great defense, some timely offense and got a win.”
For Central, while the Bulldogs’ defense did all they could and more to keep their offense within shooting distance, Central’s typically potent attack never fully seemed to find any real stride; the Bulldogs’ most effective drive was a nine-play, 42-yard effort late in the first half that ended when a 38-yard field goal fell short of the goal posts.
Quarterback Bronson Landreth completed 7 of 13 passes for 84 yards, with several occurring on the final drive with the game out of reach. Denmark limited the Bulldogs’ offense to just 186 total yards while snatching a pair of interceptions and recovering a fumble in their own end zone — one that initially looked to be Central’s first score of the game early in the first quarter but instead resulted in a Denmark touchback.
“I think the scheme was pretty good, and the kids executed and played with their eyes tonight,” Palmieri said. “We were a little upset about giving up a few of those passes at the end, but we were playing a little off and with a three-touchdown lead. They played great. The defense has been playing great all year.”
Regardless of injury, the challenging offseason or whatever their pre-region record may have been — the Danes are undeniably trending in the correct direction, and it’s likely that they’re not yet finished.
“They’re going to celebrate tonight, but we’re back lifting weights in the morning,” Palmieri said. “There’s no rest.”
Denmark (2-3, 2-0 Region 6-7A) will travel to Lambert at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23, while Central (2-2, 0-2 Region 6-7A) will try to win its first region contest at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at North Forsyth.