Denmark’s football team had been waiting for Saturday night for a long time.
The Danes knew about all the flashy names they had, both from last year and new ones added in the offseason. With their roster dotted with standout Division I college commits, they were itching to see how they could actually play in 2019.
On Saturday, in front of a packed and excited crowd, they finally got that chance, and while the Danes ultimately fell to visiting Jefferson 25-21 in their first of two preseason scrimmages, most of the scoring was not done by the starters of either team. While the performance wasn’t a perfect one for Denmark, there was still a lot to like.
“I was really pleased,” Denmark head coach Terry Crowder said. “We played a really tough Jefferson team that runs the ball extremely well, which I think is going to help us down the road. Defensively, we made some plays, so I was really pleased about where it went.”
It took some time for the Danes’ highly-touted offense to get going, and the two teams traded short possessions to start the game. Denmark seemed to get into more of a rhythm as the first quarter went on, even getting into the Dragons’ red zone at one point, but they were still unable to get points before the first quarter ended.
That changed early in the second, though, with a little bit of help. After a very short Jefferson punt, the ball was placed on the Dragons’ 25, and a few plays later, Danes running back Jordan Brunson powered through from a few yards out to put Denmark up 7-0 after an extra point.
“We started slow but it's really the first time we're playing as a team against another team,” Denmark quarterback Aaron McLaughlin said. “The first few drives were kind of slow but once we started clicking and started getting used to each other, we did good.”
The Dragons pulled starting quarterback Colby Clark early in the game due to an ankle sprain. Because of his additional role as the Dragons’ punter, his absence was felt there with shanked kicks, but under center, backup Carter Stephenson performed admirably. Right after Denmark’s first score, he drove the Dragons into Danes territory, and with 8:11 left to the half, running back Paxton Corkery barely made it over the goal line for a touchdown.
After Jefferson missed the extra point, the Danes were clinging to a 7-6 lead. Denmark couldn’t move the ball on its next possession, but soon after, a long interception return off Stepehenson put the Danes in prime scoring position.
With 1:52 left in the second quarter, McLaughlin, who recently committed to Auburn, floated a well-placed ball to the back corner of the end zone for Ze’Vian Capers, another Auburn commit. Capers leaped up and hauled it in while just barely staying in bounds for the toe-tapping touchdown grab, which ultimately gave Denmark a 14-6 lead at halftime.
“No other quarterback can throw a (more) perfect ball than that,” Capers said. “Aaron’s going to be a really good quarterback in high school, and I cannot wait to see what we can do in college.”
Most of the starters were pulled after halftime, and with the help of their team speed, Jefferson was able to move in front in the second half. Corkery scored his second touchdown with seconds left in the third to make it 14-12 after Denmark's Malachi Harris broke up a two-point conversion attempt. Early in the fourth, Hyson Porter gave the Dragons their first lead of the game with 7:16 left after they recovered a Denmark fumble at their own 8.
Danes backup quarterback Drew Clare quickly gave his team the lead back with a 55-yard heave to Azari Brown, but Jefferson scored again with 4:09 to play, and Denmark’s backups couldn’t reach the end zone again.
“We went to this offense not necessarily because we're all in love with it, but because it just fits the kids that we have and fits their skillset,” Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart said. “It gives several guys the opportunity to touch the football. We were pleased tonight in a lot of the execution that we had.”
With their upcoming second scrimmage against Pickens on Friday, the Danes will have another chance to get acclimated to one another before the season starts. If they can do that, they feel like they have a chance to more than match their high expectations.
“Once we get that chemistry going and getting used to playing with each other, we're going to be a really hard team to stop,” Capers said.