If Denmark’s football team had any semblance of unease before their first-ever scrimmage game Friday night, head coach Terry Crowder didn’t see it.
There was good reason for the Danes to be nervous, though. The Friday night spotlight was finally on Forsyth County’s newest team, with a very sizable crowd showing up for a game that ultimately won’t count in the record books.
“I just told them to go out and have fun, that they deserve it and worked their tails off,” Crowder said. “I didn’t see a lot of kids being nervous. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I think we’re just so young we don’t know the difference.”
Whether that was because of that youth, the lack of referees or other factors, the Danes put together a solid debut performance against visiting Pickens County, with the first-teamers riding the offense to outscore their opponents 28-21 in the first half before all starters were pulled and the scoreboard was reset. The Dragons’ backups outscored the Danes’ 18-12 in the second half.
“I didn’t get anybody hurt,” Crowder said. “That’s really good and I thought we played pretty good. I didn’t know what to expect at all. Pickens is a playoff team, they’ve got some big, strong kids and we got some skill guys that are pretty good. It was a fun night.”
The game’s first drive was certainly fun for the Denmark faithful. The Danes’ first-ever points came not by way of their spread offense, but from their defense, with junior Matthew Cassandra stepping in front of a CJ Streicher pass for a 55-yard pick-six on the game’s sixth play. Cassandra, one of the few transfers from West Forsyth on the team, was seeing his first varsity action.
“I just saw the QB’s eyes and read the pass and just jumped it,” Cassandra said. “My heart was beating faster and faster every yard (as) I got closer to that end zone. When I finally got there, it was just awesome.”
Denmark rode the momentum of their first turnover to another on Pickens’ second drive, with Ze’Vian Capers recovering a fumble at the Dragons’ 25. The Danes turned that into their first offensive points, with quarterback Ben Whitlock leading his team into Pickens’ red zone in four plays, including a 51-yard pass to Andrew Harvey. Two plays later, Whitlock found a wide open Teddy Davenport on a post route to extend the Danes’ lead to 14-0 with 5:23 left in the first quarter.
Pickens finally answered with 47 seconds left in the first, with Trevon Hawkins diving to the left pylon for the score. Denmark threatened at the Pickens 14-yard line after a 43-yard screen pass from Whitlock to Capers at the end of the first, but Capers couldn’t haul in an end zone pass on fourth down.
Denmark quickly got the ball back after the turnover on downs, and with 6:26 left to the half, Whitlock connected with Zach Burchfield in traffic on a 10-yard score, capping off a six-play, 48-yard drive to go up 21-7.
Pickens was able to tie the game at 21-21 with a quarterback draw and a pick-six with 2:02 left until the break, but Capers used his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame to haul in two straight long Whitlock passes – the second one being a 30-yard score, which ended up being the difference for the first team.
“Once we got the game going, our team started rolling and we started scoring points,” Capers said.
Harvey secured a score for the Danes in the backup-led second half. Second-string quarterback Manev Patel connected with Adonnis Tolbert with two minutes left in the third for Denmark’s last points.
With one game under their belt, the Danes now have a taste of what their home environment could be like. Now, they’ll two whole weeks to work on themselves before everything begins to count in their program opener against Cherokee Bluff.
“We’re going to take some confidence in there with us,” Crowder said. “Denmark is here for real. It feels good after the long haul to get here. I’m well pleased where we’re at.”