At the end of Denmark High School’s first-ever regular season football game, head coach Terry Crowder stood before the kneeling Danes and took in the gravity of the moment.
He pointed out some of the individual players who had just made history – Devin DuCille, who scored the first touchdown; Ben Whitlock, the first starting quarterback in school history.
And then he made a proclamation.
“This is the best first-year football team you’ve ever seen,” Crowder said to his group and the gathered student body.
That kind of confidence didn’t come from an empty place, either. Denmark got its first win in the form of its first-ever shutout, a 43-0 drubbing of fellow first-year program Cherokee Bluff on Friday night. It was the culmination of all the workouts, the long summer practices and everything else that came with building a team from the ground up.
“We had six goals back in January,” Crowder said. “This was the second goal. To lose this game would have been devastating for us.
“It means so much because we’ve invested so much into this thing. We worked so hard from building the gridiron to meeting with parents and starting from scratch. For the kids to come out and play this good, it makes me really proud. I kind of had a feeling that they might do that, but we’re so young, you never know.”
Indeed, it was youth that was the potential double-edged sword for the Danes. Often it means potential greatness, but sometimes it means mistakes. It also oftentimes leads to nerves, which was only elevated by the pressure to make history.
“We had the butterflies and everything,” junior linebacker/tight end Nick Carozza said. “We were ready to go, though, when we got that first (play) over.”
Cherokee Bluff received to open the game and began well, driving to the Danes’ 40-yard line, but Denmark’s defense put together a stop to get the ball before any damage could be done.
It was the closest the Bears ever came to putting a dent in the scoreboard.
On Denmark’s first drive, quarterback Ben Whitlock put his team in position for an early score, rushing down the left sideline for a 36-yard gain and pushing himself forward to the Bears’ 2. A couple of plays later, DuCille punched the ball in for Denmark’s first-ever regular season score, a two-yard run. The resulting extra point attempt was blocked, but Denmark had a 6-0 lead with 3:10 to go in the first.
The points just kept piling up from there. After forcing a quick three-and-out on the Bears’ second possession, Whitlock found an open Ze’Vian Capers on a go route for a touchdown. Denmark went for two but could not convert, leading to a 12-0 advantage.
Carozza, a key junior leader for the Danes, was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. With 19.5 seconds left in the first quarter, he recovered a fumble after a catch by a Cherokee Bluff receiver, and one play later, he showed up on offense, getting wide open for a 47-yard catch-and-run for Denmark’s third touchdown. It was the first of three scores for Carozza, who added a 4-yard score from Whitlock with 6:20 left in the first half and a 66-yard touchdown catch on the Danes’ first play of the second half. He ended his night with 145 receiving yards on four catches.
“It’s just crazy,” Carozza said. “You’re in your own moment. You really can’t hear anything – you just zone out and do your thing.”
Adonnis Tolbert corralled another score from Whitlock late in the first half, and thanks to catches from Carozza and Capers, Denmark added some more points as the halftime horn sounded with a 19-yard field goal from Trey Glymph. After Carozza’s early third quarter score, the Danes pulled their starters.
Whitlock went 12 of 17 for 322 yards and five touchdowns. DuCille finished his night with 70 yards rushing on eight carries.
With the daunting first game under their belts and the pressure to win off their backs, the Danes are ready for what’s next.
“It’s just amazing, man, putting your stamp on Denmark and getting that first win (and) being the first ones to ever do it,” Carozza said. “It just gives us a backbone to start. The first scrimmage, it gave us a little start. This first win in Denmark history just gives us a better push, and we’re ready to go now.”