By Caleb Byrd
For the Forsyth County News
The pocket closed quickly around Aaron McLaughlin.
But he didn’t panic. He scanned the field and began to move to his left. A second later he found his target: senior Azari Brown sprinting down the middle of the field. A quick throw and 44 yards later and Brown was in the end zone for a Denmark touchdown.
The touchdown pass was McLaughlin’s second of three on the night, as the Danes took home a 20-10 win against North Forsyth in Raider Valley. It was Denmark’s first win of the season, and first in-county and Region 6-7A win of the year.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, it was their first loss of the year as a solid four-game winning streak came to a close.
McLaughlin went 11-of-20 passing for 182 yards and three touchdowns. The first went to Brown for a 13-yard touchdown, and the second to Brown again for a 44-yard touchdown.
Then there was the last throw. McLaughlin scrambled to his left out of the pocket late in the third quarter, and turning to throw back toward the middle of the field, he connected with senior Casey Gunn.
And if the throw wasn’t impressive enough, Gunn caught the ball over his head, barely keeping one foot in bounds for the score.
“He’s an awesome player and we’re blessed to have him,” said Denmark head coach Mike Palmieri about McLaughlin. “He makes everyone around him better.”
Those words were echoed in Denmark’s second-half effort. Going into halftime, North led 10-7, and Denmark couldn’t seem to get anything going on offense other than a short 13-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter.
But McLaughlin came out of halftime with his mind set on a win, and his team responded with tenacious affirmation.
Six first downs, two offensive scores, and two crucial defensive turnovers secured the victory for Denmark. The Danes got better in the second half, and it started with McLaughlin.
“You know,” continued Palmieri, “last week we had a chance to win and ended up losing in a kind of young way, but this week we pulled it out.”
Denmark didn’t allow North to score after halftime, holding their offense to only four first downs, and dismantling the Raider passing game.
Brady Meitz went 8-of-15 passing in the second half, but only managed 52 yards through the air. Meitz overthrew wide-open receivers four times in the second half, two of those balls being would-be touchdowns. And two of his incompletions in the second half were interceptions to Denmark’s Dee Crayton and Kaden Henley.
Henley’s interception was in the end zone, ending North’s last offensive drive and crushing any hope left in Raider Valley.
Juxtapose that with Meitz’ 6-of-9, 112 yard, one touchdown performance in the first half — the touchdown coming off an 84 yard rope to Tucker Hartsfield on the Raiders’ first offensive drive — and you get quite the head-scratcher when it comes to North’s offensive effort in the second half.
In the first half, North’s defense held Denmark to 48 yards rushing, 98 yards passing and only one touchdown. Chris Herock and Patrick Corrigan both came away with a sack, and Tristan Graham recovered a fumbled snap for a turnover.
The first half looked typical of North for the past four games. But that was the story of the night for North, the first half.
“You know we thought we had a great plan going in,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “But I think the biggest thing all around is we just didn’t finish like we wanted to. We didn’t finish some offensive drives, and we didn’t finish some plays defensively. But Denmark’s a good football team. Their quarterback is a great player, so hats off to them tonight.”
Brown caught three passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns for Denmark, while Gunn caught three passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. McLaughlin rushed for 171 yards.
Hartsfield caught seven passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Corrigan rushed for 84 yards on five carries and Jared Lucero rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries.
“Our region is a tough region,” Craft said. “So every game is gonna be a battle. We’re off next week. We need it, cause you know we played five straight. But you know the rest of our games we gotta just finish better. That’s a one or two possession game, so we’re right there and I still really like our football team.”
Denmark can rest confidently over the weekend with a strong first win under their belt going into next week’s region battle against Forsyth Central.
North Forsyth should take advantage of a much needed bye-week to prepare for a strong West Forsyth team on Oct. 16.