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Football: Denmark tops South, earns sole possession of first place
Kaden Henley
Kaden Henley, right, and Hayden Songer, left, bring down South Forsyth running back Tre Green during Friday's 36-22 win against the War Eagles. - photo by David Roberts

Aaron McLaughlin broke loose up the Denmark sideline, steamrolling ahead as he stiff-armed a South Forsyth defender to punctuate a 30-yard run. 

It was the fourth straight run for McLaughlin. 

After a 28-yard run on first-and-10 from Denmark's own 17-yard line, McLaughlin had runs of 15, 8, then 30 to set up Amon Williams' 2-yard touchdown.

The score cut South Forsyth's lead to 15-14, and after a 31-yard touchdown throw to Teddy Davenport on the ensuing drive, it marked the final time Denmark trailed all game as the Danes beat South Forsyth 36-22 in the first matchup between the two schools.

South raced out to a 15-0 lead, but Denmark scored 36 straight points behind a 348-yard performance by McLaughlin, plus 122 yards and three touchdowns from Williams.

"We were in the right place a lot. We just couldn't tackle him," South head coach Jeff Arnett said. "We had them all spying him, but it didn't work. We just couldn't tackle him. I don't even know what else to say. We were there over and over and over, but they just couldn't make the play."

South scored on its first two possessions of the game, as a 2-yard plunge by Gavin Morris and a pass from Kyle Durham to Devin McGlockton on the two-point conversion gave the War Eagles an 8-0 lead.

The touchdown capped a 13-play, 94-yard drive that began after Josh Nelson picked off McLaughlin on his third pass of the game.

South's defense forced a punt, then Durham hit Gavin Morris for 25 yards, which set up a 68-yard touchdown to Mitch Thompson on a deep ball that extended the lead to 15-0.

But the War Eagles couldn't score again until their final possession, when Durham threw across the field on a 21-yard TD pass to Matthew Meersman. 

Between the two scores, Durham threw three interceptions and Denmark's offense scored a touchdown on five of six drives (Thompson made an interception on a wide receiver pass just before halftime).

"We can seem to start, we just can't seem to finish," Arnette said. "That's on me, you know? Dadgum head coach has got to find a way to be able to start and finish the game. I just haven't been able to get us there yet. We've got our backs up against the wall big time. We're going to have to win two ball games to get in the playoffs and keep this streak going — the longest in the county."

Durham went 17 of 25 for 313 yards and Thompson hauled in seven passes for 199 yards.

Harrison Halder made an interception off a tipped pass on South's first drive after halftime, then Kenon Dicks picked off Durham two drives later. Treston Jordan had an interception in the second quarter.

"We wanted them to work down the field," Denmark head coach Mike Palmieri said. "No big plays, you know what I mean? I thought early we played a little too soft and kind of let them get a little free on the runs, so we tightened it up. We just want them to drive the football."

Williams scored two more touchdowns for the Danes — an 11-yard run to open the third quarter, then a 4-yard TD that capped a 13-play drive and made the score 36-15.

Brandon Roel set up the score with a 46-yard run down to South's 4-yard line, but Roel was penalized for celebrating during the run, which brought the ball back to the 39-yard line and allowed the Danes to chew more clock. 

South got the ball back with 10:49 to make up the three-score difference, but by the time Durham connected with Meersman for the 21-yard touchdown pass, only 6:36 remained. South attempted an onside kick but did not recover.

"We did a better job in the second half, and toward the end of the game we played a little prevent when we were up three scores," Palmieri said. "The kids even executed that. It took them 5 minutes almost to score that touchdown, so that was great."

McLaughlin rushed 19 times for 218 yards and was 8 of 17 passing for 130 yards, adding a 39-yard touchdown pass to Azari Brown in addition to his throw to Davenport.

"Tonight, we played an incredible quarterback," Arnette said. "We just couldn't tackle him. We just could not tackle him. We've just got to find a way to bounce back, but I'm not going to take anything away from that QB. He's the difference in this game, that's for sure. I've been doing this 30 years, and he may be as good as I've seen. He's definitely one of the best, and I've played against a few guys that have been big-time in college and even played a little bit of pro. He's really good."

The game marked the first meeting between these two programs.

"We prepare for everybody the same," Palmieri said. "As a player, as a coach, I'm not worried about rivalries or nothing like that. We just compete every week. We prepare for every team the same, no matter who we're playing. But the kids were excited to play them. A lot of those kids know a lot of those kids, and I'm just glad we responded."

Denmark (4-3, 4-0 Region 6-7A) has sole possession of first place after Gainesville's loss to West Forsyth and will host Gainesville at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13. Meanwhile, South (4-3, 1-3 Region 6-7A) will look to halt its three-game skid against North Forsyth at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in Raider Valley.