By Patricia Duffy
For the Forsyth County News
ROSWELL — If there were ever a question whether second-year team Denmark was legit, going toe-to-toe with the defending state champion should silence any doubters.
After storming to a 5-0 start, Denmark (5-1, 2-1 Region 7-4A) fell to Blessed Trinity (4-1, 2-0 Region 7-4A) 20-19 on Friday night.
“They’re an elite program and we can play with them; we know we can,” Denmark head coach Terry Crowder said after the loss.
An electric crowd filled both the home and away stands at Blessed Trinity Stadium, and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn posted up at the back of the end zone as a fall breeze gave way to an instant classic of a game.
There was no question whether the Danes had a high-powered offense, with Auburn commits Aaron McLaughlin and Ze’Vian Capers leading the pack. The real question mark coming in was on defense. How would Denmark’s hold up against a historically strong Blessed Trinity offense?
The short answer: Good. The longer answer: Elijah Green and Justice Haynes.
While the Titans’ offense isn’t what it has been in recent years, losing multiple starters after last season, the Danes couldn’t have expected a dual-rushing attack that accounted for over 200 yards. Especially when the two running backs that accounted for most of those yards were an embattled UNC commit in his first game back from a sports hernia (Green) and a freshman whose dad just so happened to win a Super Bowl with the Steelers (Haynes).
Individually, Green accounting for 81 yards and a score on 21 carries in what was a surprise appearance after missing most of Blessed Trinity’s games the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Haynes, son of from NFL player Verron Haynes, tacked on his own score and 130 yards over 16 carries in just the fourth game of his high school career.
It was a slow start with a couple of goose eggs still posted entering the second quarter, but that all changed when McLaughlin aired it out 45 yards to Ze’Vian Capers, setting up a 1-yard Jordan Brunson score. A bad snap on the point after put the Danes up 6-0 halfway through the second quarter.
Three drives later, Blessed Trinity had a chance to put points on the board with one play remaining in the half. On third-and-17, Titans quarterback Duncan Reavis hit his go-to wide receiver, Carson Harof, on a screen pass. Harof skirted the sideline 52 yards, coming within a yard of the goal line, but was unable to score as time expired.
The second half started much like the first: slow and scoreless. But that quickly changed when Blessed Trinity’s Green dove into the end zone from the 2-yard line. After a successful extra point attempt, the Titans jumped to a 7-6 lead.
Freshman Haynes took his shot, and scored, on the Titans’ next drive. Lined up on the 34, Haynes broke through Denmark’s line, battling the Danes’ secondary for 66 yards, winning the race to the end zone and putting the Titans up by eight points with 11:44 left in the fourth.
With the pressure on, it didn’t take McLaughlin and company long to answer. On the next drive, Denmark passed its way into Titans territory before McLaughlin hit Teddy Davenport for a 16-yard pass to set up first-and-10 at the 10.
On the next play, McLaughlin showed off his leg strength, keeping the ball for the score, but a failed two-point conversion put the Danes down by two with less than eight minutes left.
Blessed Trinity couldn’t answer and burned their last timeout on a fourth-and-4 fake out with 6:29 left in the game.
Needing a score, the Danes moved down the field on their next drive. On only his fifth reception of the night, Capers hauled in a 24-yard pass for his first and only score of the night.
Crowder’s decision to go for the extra point, rather than a two-point conversion, after Capers’ score will likely be scrutinized.
On one hand, Denmark had gone for two on its last drive and failed to convert. On the other, a very capable McLaughlin could easily capitalize off a second chance and force a tie in the case of a Blessed Trinity score.
In the end, it could’ve made the difference as Blessed Trinity did answer with a 10-yard passing score from Reavis to tight end James Bryant.
With the Blessed Trinity fans roaring and shaking the bleachers they stood on, the Danes got the ball and 0:35 left on the clock to make something happen.
After a crucial false start penalty pushed Denmark back to the 20-yard line, McLaughlin connected with Capers on a 34-yard pass. With the clock ticking down, Parker Hannon trotted onto the field to attempt a 50-yard field goal with one second remaining.
The ball was snapped, Hannon swung his leg, and as he looked up, Army commit Jackson Filipowicz stormed right into view.
“We gotta keep our heads up,” McLaughlin said. “That’s what we gotta do. We can’t let this get us down. We can’t let this affect us the way that people are gonna want it to. We just gotta fix the mistakes.”
McLaughlin finished the night 18 of 26 for 255 yards and a score through the air. On the ground, he rushed a respectable 47 yards on 20 carries as the Danes’ leading rusher on the night.
Jordan Brunson accounted for 11 yards on 8 carries.
Indeed, the Danes gave up 41 points to Blessed Trinity in 2018.
Tonight, they gave up only 20, with one point making the difference. Although the outcomes were the same, that’s where the similarities between the two teams start and stop.
Tonight, Denmark showed it’s a region contender. Next week, it will have to do it all over again.
The Danes take on Marist at home next week at 7:30 p.m.