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Football: Denmark offense grounded in loss to Collins Hill
Danes fall in second round of Class 7A playoffs to No. 6 Eagles
Aaron McLaughlin
Denmark quarterback Aaron McLaughlin is tackled by Collins Hill linebacker Adarius Jones Friday during the Danes' 17-6 loss in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs - photo by David Roberts

SUWANEE — Denmark's defense came to play Friday night. 

The thing is, so did Collins Hill's defense. 

A second-round playoff game between two juggernaut offenses turned into a defensive slugfest, with Collins Hill outlasting the Danes 17-6. Collins Hill will host Parkview in the third round of the Class 7A playoffs. 

A cold, wet, windy night set the stage for a sloppy offensive performance and helped limit the Danes to just 143 yards of total offense. 

Quarterback Aaron McLaughlin finished 3 of 12 for 83 yards a touchdown and two interceptions, and completed his first pass on the final drive of the first half, a 29-yard comeback to Casey Gunn.

"We told them that weather wasn't an excuse this game," Denmark head coach Mike Palmieri said. "We just wanted them to come out and play hard, and we did. We expected to win the game. We worked hard this week. I know they've got a great team over there, but we thought we could play with them. This game comes down to a couple of plays here and there. When you make the plays, you win. When you don't, you lose."

The game was never out of reach for the Danes, whose defense largely contained a pair of top prospects in QB Sam Horn and WR/DB Justin Hunter.

Horn went 17-of-28 passing for 137 yards and a touchdown, adding 71 yards and a score on six carries. 

His first carry went 29 yards up the right sideline for a TD and came three plays after McLaughlin's first turnover of the night, a perfectly read interception by Justin Richardson. 

Denmark punted on its next three drives, the Danes' only first down coming on a 23-yard scramble by McLaughlin. 

Collins Hill threatened to make it a two-touchdown lead just minutes into the game, but Denmark's defense tightened up in the red zone during the Eagles' second possession.

After a 2-yard run by RB Cedric Nash gave Collins Hill first-and-goal on Denmark's 1-yard line, senior Harrison Halder met Nash in the backfield and drove him back 2 yards. Then, after a Horn incompletion, Gunn made an impressive play to breakup another Horn pass and force a 20-yard field goal.

Senior Kaden Henley also had a pass breakup earlier in the drive that saved a touchdown.

"I think they've played great all year," Palmieri said of the defense. "We knew they were a tough offense that was scoring a lot of points. We had a good game plan, and these kids executed it. They're smart, they're tough. We've been playing good ever since day one against GAC. We played great defense all year. I thought tonight we played pretty well."

Denmark's defense allowed only one more first down the rest of the half, forcing three Collins Hill punts.

The Danes' offense took advantage and engineered a 15-play, 73-yard drive to reach the Eagles' red zone. Trey Glymph lined up for a 24-yard field goal try that would have cut the deficit to 10-3, but Richardson blocked the kick.

Glymph's lone extra-point attempt was blocked, too, after the Danes scored on a 43-yard TD toss from McLaughlin to Azari Brown. 

Palmieri credits Collins Hill's front seven with pressuring McLaughlin and virtually taking the deep ball out of the playbook.

"They were just tough up front on us," Palmieri said. "We don't have all the time in the world. We don't have excuses; we lost a football game. You play hard, and sometimes it's like that."

Brown's touchdown grab answered a 24-yard TD pass from Horn to Clint Gilbert. 

Denmark's defense forced a punt on Collins Hill's first drive after the touchdown, but the Danes couldn't get anything going and McLaughlin was picked off by Hunter to seal the game.

"Aaron's a warrior," Palmieri said. "He played great for us all year long -- all those kids. I mean, look at the numbers we have, and we've battled with some of the best teams in the state and beat a lot of good teams this year. We're trying to build a culture. These kids, I just told them they started the foundation. So we're proud of this group here and we're going to build off of this."