GAINESVILLE — Denmark made a comfortable living for itself this season winning close games.
Entering Friday's game against Gainesville, all but one of the Danes' previous seven games were decided by one possession.
So, with Denmark trailing by seven points with 3:02 left in the game and needing to drive 80 yards to tie the game, there was little reason to believe the Danes couldn't deliver.
Jacob Nelson completed back-to-back out routes on the Denmark sideline, first a 5-yard completion to Aidan Brozena then a 9-yard throw to Lake Thoman to move the chains. And after a 23-yard pass to Hayden Fox in the middle of the field, the Danes were on the move.
But an incompletion on first down followed by a holding call had the Danes in a hole, and facing second-and-long, Nelson was hit by Qua Coley and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Khaliq Maddux to allow the Red Elephants to run out the clock and escape with a 13-6 victory.
"We can't come out here and win a championship against a good team and not do the things that got us there," Denmark head coach Mike Palmieri said. "We've just got to coach better and play better. No excuses ... We were there. We had the opportunities, but we just didn't make the plays."
Denmark's offense had several opportunities late in the second half, each drive stalling near midfield.
During the their penultimate drive, the Danes' offense took over at their own 49-yard line with 6:48 left in the game. A strong 12-yard run by Amon Williams had Denmark in Gainesville territory, but after a failed wide receiver pass netted minus-3 yards, followed by a false start and an incomplete pass, Denmark's offense faced a third-and-18.
Nelson dropped back and scrambled before finding Kohl Yearwood on the opposite side of the field. Yearwood caught the pass and barreled his way through three Gainesville defenders, extending the ball just past the first-down marker to move the chains. But a flag in the backfield brought the ball back, and after an incomplete pass, Denmark punted the ball away.
Denmark also missed two field goals and botched an extra-point attempt.
The first missed field goal came after Charley Croiner came up with an opportunistic interception. Gainesville quarterback Baxter Wright tried to pump fake the ball, but the wet conditions caused the ball slip out of his hands and to fly backwards into the air and into Croiner's arms.
A 15-yard run by Nelson took the ball inside the red zone, then an 8-yard run by Amon Williams on third-and-10 set up a 21-yard field goal attempt, which Trey Glymph missed.
Glymph misfired on another kick right after halftime ending a drive that saw Denmark drive 50 yards on six plays to set up the 33-yard try.
"We had opportunities to win the game. We had point-blank field goals, blocking — you don't deserve to win a championship the way we played tonight."
Denmark scored on its fourth drive of the game when Nelson fired a deep ball to Thoman, who fought through defensive pass interference to haul in the pass and take it 69 yards into the end zone.
Nelson finished 7 of 16 for 115 yards and the score, while Williams totaled 105 yards on 24 carries.
Thoman's TD catch answered an 88-yard burst by Gainesville running back Naim Cheeks on the first play of the Red Elephants' third drive. Gainesville added to its lead in the third quarter, when Wright threw a 21-yard TD pass to Ellis Pitts. Samuel Lemos blocked the ensuing PAT to keep it a one-possession game.
Wright finished 13 of 21 for 170 yards with a TD, completing 5 of his final 6 passes for 76 yards. Cheeks ran for 178 yards on 21 carries, while Wright added 60 yards on 12 attempts.
Denmark [6-2, 4-1 Region 6-7A] controls its own destiny and can capture the Region 6-7A title next week with a win against West Forsyth.