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Football: Denmark rides defense to defeat Central in first in-county matchup
Denmark receiver Adonnis Tolbert escapes the reach of a diving Forsyth Central defender after making a catch on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. - photo by Ben Hendren

When the scoreboard clock struck zero on Friday, Denmark’s football team, a squad that’s already made plenty of history, found a way to make some more during its first-ever in-county matchup.

With two wins to start to their first season ever, the Class 4A Danes entered their matchup with Class 7A Forsyth Central not just trying to prove that they were a good first-year team, but a good team, period.

While that’s still up for debate, the county’s newest high school got the best of its oldest, as the Danes rode their defense to defeat the Bulldogs 7-3 on Friday night.

Denmark head coach Terry Crowder will always swear by his confidence in his group, but even he couldn’t hide how surprised he was.

“A first year school ain’t supposed to do this,” he said. “(You’re) not supposed to start at 3-0 and beat two teams that have seniors and are bigger and stronger. We’re not supposed to. Now I’m going to go into it like we’re supposed to.”

Denmark opened the game with a first down, but the Bulldogs put together an eight-play drive on their first possession of the game, with quarterback Ryan Van Uum getting his team in prime position with a 30-yard run down the sideline.

Ultimately, though, the spot where his run ended was where the drive stalled, and the Bulldogs were forced to settle for a 30-yard field goal from Brody Palmer. With 7:31 left in the first quarter, Central had a 3-0 lead over the Denmark.

The Danes responded with their best drive of the first half, a 10-play, 79-yard march with two big catch and runs from Ze’Vian Capers, whose size posed a consistent problem for the Bulldogs.

Denmark drove to the Central 4-yard line and decided to go for it on fourth down. That decision paid off, with Addonis Tolbert finding open space in the back of the end zone and grabbing a pass from quarterback Ben Whitlock for a 7-3 lead with 4:13 left in the opening quarter.

For the rest of the first and all of the second, Whitlock attempted to find his receivers deep, but to no avail. The Danes caught a break on one of those throws, which was intercepted at Central’s 43 but called back due to a penalty.

The Bulldogs didn’t let that setback get to them for long. As the clock ticked down towards the end of the second quarter, Central drove all the way to Denmark’s 2-yard line. Facing fourth down with just 15 seconds left to the break, the Bulldogs opted to go for the lead rather than take a chip-shot field goal. However, Denmark’s goal line defense stood, preserving the Danes’ slim lead into the second half, a lead that would hold until the end.

“Usually our offense is scoring a bunch of points, but today, they weren’t doing as good as they (have been),” Denmark junior linebacker Zach Burchfield said. “We knew as a defense that we had to step up.”

The second half started much like the first ended for the Bulldogs. Central drove all the way to Denmark’s 1-yard line, and once again bypassed a field goal in favor of a potential touchdown. That conversion attempt ended just as the last one did, with Patrick Leathers being tackled a yard short with his hand outstretched.

“In this offense, you do that,” Central head coach Frank Hepler said of his team’s willingness to go for it on fourth down. “The defense responded – we held them to a punt (twice). We want to play a real, tough, hard-nosed offense. We left some points on the field by penalty and by just not punching it in there a couple of times.”

Denmark got the ball back just a yard from its end zone and had to punt after a three-and out. That actually turned out well for them, as Central fumbled the ball at their own 45 and the Danes drove to the Bulldogs’ 39 to get out of their red zone.

Penalties continued to be a thorn in Central’s side throughout the rest of the night, with a false start penalty erasing what would have been a run to Denmark’s 10-yard line midway through the third.

“I don’t blame that on the officials at all,” Hepler said. “I can name two or three (penalties) where it was on us as coaches.”

The Bulldogs were not able to put a solid drive together again, with Denmark running back Devin DuCille milking the clock as the fourth quarter drew to a close. With 1:47 left, Central (2-1) got the ball back after a Denmark punt to the 7. That difficult field position and the clock ultimately quenched any hopes of a go-ahead score.

“We improved on the kicking game,” Crowder said. “It was great tonight.”

With a win over a Class 7A opponent, the Danes (3-0) hope that they’ve earned a little bit more respect.

“I don’t know how people are going to perceive us,” Crowder said. “That’s up to them. We’re getting better every week, and as long as we continue to do that, we’ll be okay.”