At Denmark High School’s football stadium, the atmosphere was already electrifying.
Last Friday, the Danes were set to play their only in-county matchup of the season against Forsyth Central, with their crop of Division I prospects set to face one of the county’s top defenses in one of the year’s marquee games. Fans filed in by the hundreds, and the national anthem was played by trumpet at midfield.
But right as Forsyth Central’s football team was about to run through their banner towards their giddy fans, a voice sounded over the loudspeakers, announcing that the game had been temporarily suspended due to lightning in the area.
Temporarily eventually turned to permanently. Hours later, the game was canceled, and right on cue, a pouring and fitting rain began to fall. For both Central and Denmark, it was a disappointing end to what originally looked to be an exciting night, and for the Bulldogs, the game was set to serve another purpose.
“We're coming off a loss, so for us, getting back on the field is the best medicine,” Central head coach Frank Hepler said. “That's where the disappointment of not being able to play Friday (comes from). Once it looked like we weren't able to play the game, then you have to have to change gears and start looking forward to the next Friday. It's never easy -- on both sides, it's got to be tough.”
That game wasn’t the only one that was cut short. South Forsyth’s contest with South Gwinnett was the only matchup from last week that was finished, with Lambert, West Forsyth and Pinecrest also seeing cancellations. All those teams handled the weather situation differently, and they now have added challenges in putting those games behind them and preparing for tonight’s matchups.
West’s tilt against Roswell was the earliest cancellation, and Lambert’s game against Peachtree Ridge was stopped in the middle of the first quarter with the Longhorns down 7-0. Pinecrest elected to simply postpone its game against Athens Christian, though, ultimately finishing on Monday. But while the Paladins had energy and an early lead on Friday, those didn’t carry over to Monday, when they eventually fell 34-13.
“You've got the momentum, you're going in to score, you stop the game and you've got to come back two days later,” Pinecrest head coach Terance Mathis said. “It's one of those things where (it's), ‘'How can you keep that momentum going for two days?’ You knew (Athens Christian was) going to get up because they played slow and played sloppy. You knew they were going to come back on you. We just couldn't match their intensity.”
And to make matters more complicated, Pinecrest is playing again tonight against Whitefield Academy, after just three days to prepare and recover. That’s a daunting task for any team, especially for a banged up 1A team with 25 active players like the Paladins are. Right after Monday’s game, linebacker Joey Kiernan didn’t know how his team would do it.
“Honestly, I have no clue,” Kiernan said. “I was only focused on tonight. We've got to get (injuries) fixed up. We're all a little banged up but it's no excuse. Whitefield played tonight too. We've got to prepare and do what we do.”
While last week’s practices were in preparation for Friday night’s games, those sessions can still be valuable, even for teams that didn’t play. Still, the games themselves are also valuable learning experiences in and of themselves, and with region games on the horizon, any chance to grow is valuable.
“Each week, you're trying to get better, and it's not just on Friday night, but it's Monday through Friday,” Hepler said. “So Friday's part of that equation. You take what you learn from this game and go into your region games like, ‘OK, who runs an offense similar to this down the road? What mistakes did we make? Here's what we need to do to correct it.’ That hurts you, not being able to (look at that).
“You hope the practice time that we got isn't for naught. You can still look at those four days of practice and say, ‘OK, we worked hard towards that style of offense. Now we have to relate it to the next time we see an opponent with that kind of offense.’”
Even with all the changes and unexpected hurdles that some teams had to go through this week, the enthusiasm for the game is still the same. For Central, that’s especially true, with the Bulldogs looking to get back into the win column tonight against Lakeside-DeKalb.
“We just want to play,” Hepler said. “Coming off a loss to Cass, a game that we had in hand, our kids are disappointed. They're just excited about playing again.”