Denmark managed to survive four turnovers. The Danes’ fifth turnover, however, proved to be one too many.
Denmark had thrown two interceptions, muffed a punt and failed to convert a fourth-down attempt. Still, with just over two minutes remaining in Friday’s game against Milton, the Danes were 74 yards from forcing overtime.
A 15-yard run by Kohl Yearwood brought the Danes to around midfield with 2:22 to play, but on fourth-and-8, Milton’s defense generated its fifth turnover as Caleb Moran tackled Denmark QB Jacob Nelson from behind, forcing a fumble and allowing the Eagles to hold on for a 21-14 win.
“We’ve got to play better,” Denmark coach Mike Palmieri said. “We’ve got to put points on the board and find ways. The last two weeks have been pretty hard. Down to the last play of the game — it is what it is.”
Denmark’s first drive of the game was its best drive.
Anias Blackman darted through the line for a 10-yard gain on the Danes’ first play, then Nelson distributed back-to-back completions, first to Yearwood then to Brendan Hester for another first down.
The Danes covered 68 yards on just seven plays on their inaugural drive, with Blackman scoring a 15-yard TD to give Denmark a 7-0 lead with 8:18 left in the first quarter.
But Denmark’s turnover woes started shortly after, as Will Parton blocked a punt on the Danes' following drive, giving the Eagles first-and-goal from the 6-yard line.
Milton QB Luke Nickel found Marc Essley on a 6-yard TD strike to knot the game — Nickel’s first of three touchdown throws and Essley’s first of two touchdown receptions.
Milton’s lead quickly ballooned to 21-7.
Robert Billings jumped a route and picked off Nelson, setting up a 12-yard TD pass from Nickel to Debron Gatling, then an interception by Wyatt Smalley allowed Nickel and Essley to hook up again, this time on a 6-yard TD toss.
Smalley’s interception came after he recognized the Danes were setting up the screen. Milton’s 6-foot-3, 210-pound defensive end stayed home, read Nelson’s eyes and jumped up in the air to snare the pass.
Milton’s offense sputtered after that score, though, as the Danes defense held the Eagles to negative-12 total yards on their final 23 offensive plays. Nickel completed just 3 of 11 passes for 9 yards after throwing for his third score of the game.
E.J. Adams led the Danes’ effort in the defensive secondary, breaking up four passes, including one deflection that came in the corner of the end zone and denied the Eagles a touchdown.
Dee Crayton scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to pull Denmark within 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, but it was the work of Crayton and his defensive teammates that kept the Danes in the game until the final moments.
Denmark stopped Milton behind the line of scrimmage eight different times, including three sacks by William Hodges and two from Evan Floyd-Marthol.
Hodges also had a hand in forcing an interception when he clobbered Nickel from the blind side, sending the ball skyward, then off Charley Croiner’s pads and into Jacob Smith’s hands for the pick.
And it was Floyd-Marthol’s sack on third-and-3 late in the fourth quarter that returned possession to Denmark and granted the Danes one last chance to tie the game. Floyd-Marthol ran free right up the middle and dropped Nickel for a 12-yard loss.
After Milton’s punt, Blackman ran twice for 7 yards, and Yearwood’s 15-yard run on third-and-3 ignited Denmark’s sideline. But Parton made two straight stops behind the line to put the Danes offense in a hole, and Moran’s sack on fourth down handed Denmark its third region loss of the season — each by one possession.
“You know, we’re five or six plays away from being undefeated the whole season,” Palmieri said. “It’s a shame that we came up short. These kids work hard. We’ve just got to do a better job of finding ways to get the ball to our playmakers, get stops on defense and keep doing what we need to do to get these kids in the right position.”
Yearwood relieved Nelson midway through the second quarter after Nelson’s second interception of the game. Yearwood completed 3 of 6 passes for 23 yards, while Nelson was 4 of 15 for 23 yards.
Blackman started in place of injured Denmark running back Amon Williams and turned in 81 yards on 22 carries, flashing his quickness early in the game with runs of 10, 13 and 15 yards.
The Danes also played without wide receiver Aidan Brozena.
“We had a lot of kids out,” Palmieri said. “We had a couple of other kids out, but it is what it is. It’s football. This time of the year, you get sick and you’ve got kids hurt, but we have no excuses. We need to find ways to win.”
Denmark (5-4, 1-3 Region 6-7A) will travel to Forsyth Central for its final regular season game at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4.
Win or lose, the Danes could end up in a three-way tie for one of the region's final playoff spots.
A Denmark victory coupled with West Forsyth defeating South Forsyth would see all three teams tie for third place at 2-3 in the region with 1-1 records against each other. A similar scenario would play out if Denmark and West Forsyth lost — setting up a three-way tie for fourth place with Forsyth Central, as all three would be 1-4 in the region with 1-1 records against each other.