The fact that points wound up being at a premium in the South Forsyth-Denmark matchup wasn't wholly unexpected. The War Eagles entered the Region 6-7A meeting having scored just over 25 points per game, while the Danes, despite a five-game winning streak, were still under a 20-points-per-game average.
Having the game's only touchdown come from South Forsyth's first play from scrimmage certainly didn't seem to be in the cards, but that's exactly how the 10-3 win for the War Eagles played out Friday in Alpharetta.
“Those two teams just got after it,” South Forsyth head coach Troy Morris said. “They just kept battling each other. Those are two good football teams, and I always say, 'When two good football teams play each other, it comes down to a handful of plays.' Luckily, tonight, we made enough to come out with the win.”
Two of those key plays, as it turned out, happened on back-to-back snaps early in the first quarter.
After the Danes (5-2, 1-1) had nearly reached midfield on the game's first series, the War Eagles (4-3, 1-1) forced a punt. South Forsyth blocked the kick and took over possession on the Denmark 31-yard line.
“It happened early,” Morris said of the blocked punt, "but it ended up being a huge part of the game and the outcome.”
Moments later, an even bigger play occurred.
The War Eagles saw wide receiver Chris Nelson receiving one-on-one coverage, and quarterback Ty Watkins perfectly executed a play-action pass to freeze the defense.
The senior lofted a throw towards the goal line, with the ball somehow managing to evade the fingertips of a Denmark cornerback — who it must be said was in almost perfect position — and land in the hands of Nelson for the touchdown.
“We liked what we saw,” Morris said of calling the play. “Ty threw a great ball. We had great protection. Chris went up and got it. It was something that we worked on all week. They executed it well.”
After playing a key role, albeit in a losing effort, last week during his season debut, Nelson showcased how much his speed changes the dynamic of the South Forsyth offense.
“When you have a guy like Chris, that’s always going to be in the playbook,” Morris said. “It’s just how you do it and when you do it. You have to take your shots. It just happened to work out that the coverage gave us that, and that’s what we took advantage of.”
This week marked the returns of defensive backs Josh Nelson, Chris' brother, and Kai Fernandes. Josh Nelson had been out all season, while Fernandes returned from a broken foot suffered in Week 1.
“They made a huge impact,” Morris said of his cornerback pairing. “… They made a few mistakes here or there, but I thought they played really well.”
One of the mistakes nearly handed the Danes a late lifeline.
In a matchup that featured roughly 30 penalties, two flags on the same play gifted Denmark a golden opportunity to possibly tie the game late.
With less than three minutes to go — and kickers Hamilton DiBoyan of the Danes and Tyler Simpson of the War Eagles having already traded successful second-half field goals — the hosts benefitted from a defensive pass interference call on third-and-15. Upset with the call, the South Forsyth CB ripped off his helmet, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Instead of fourth-and-15 at their own 48-yard line, the Danes took their next snap from the War Eagles' 22.
“Penalties are part of the game,” Morris said. “When there’s a bunch of them, you just have to keep playing. You don’t have any other options.
“Try to teach your kids what is going on, and try to coach them out of getting those penalties. We had a lot in the first half, and then they ended up getting quite a few in the second half. … You just have to keep fighting, and you can’t let it affect your attitude.”
As it pertained to Denmark, it turned out that as quickly as the penalties giveth, the penalties taketh away.
On the ensuing play, the Danes were pushed back 10 yards for holding. The War Eagles then managed a 9-yard sack by C.J. Kemper and two incompletions to set up a fourth-and-29 situation.
“When those penalties happen, it changes how you call the game,” Morris said. “… When you are getting so many [yards] on first and second down, you can kind of get into a rhythm. When you get behind the sticks like that, it almost changes your whole strategy.
“It happened to us and happened to them.”
Despite giving the ball back over to South Forsyth with 1:29 remaining and subsequently allowing a first down, Denmark gave itself a chance to pull off a late miracle.
Starting at their own 5-yard line with no timeouts and under a minute to work with, Danes starting quarterback Jacob Nelson connected with Aidan Brozena and Lake Thoman a couple of times each to cross midfield.
As time expired, Nelson launched a Hail Mary pass that fell incomplete, allowing the War Eagles to hold on.
“Last week, that was a heartbreaker,” Morris said. “Again, two really good teams going after each other. Last week, those few plays didn’t go our way. This week, they did. ...
“I’m proud of them. I’m super happy with how they responded tonight after we’ve had two losses in a row. They came back and beat a really good football team tonight, so I couldn’t be happier.”