By McClain Baxley
For the Forsyth County News
In the first meeting between the county’s newest rivalry, there was nervous, excited tension.
Players from both sides talked a little bit more after each play, student sections brought out their most punishing chants and neither head coach wanted to treat the game bigger than what it was.
But it was a big game — the Region 6-7A championship — and at the end of the ball game, it was the West Forsyth holding its first trophy since 2012 after defeating Denmark, 20-10.
“It feels great,” Dave Svehla said, capping his first season as head coach of the Wolverines. “I’m so happy for West Forsyth and our community and our kids and our parents. There hasn’t been a region championship here in football in eight years, so we’re going to take a day to enjoy it.”
It took halftime adjustments and a dominant, draining drive for the home team to retake the lead.
West started the second half with the ball on their own 34-yard line. Kobe Haynes rushed for 9 yards, then 2 yards and then no yards.
On a second-and-10, sophomore quarterback Keegan Stover stepped up in the pocket and delivered an 11-yard throw to Jaycen Harris.
The offensive kept punching, 3 yards here, 4 yards there and at the end, Stover pushed his way into the end zone to take a 13-10 lead over the Danes.
The 15-play opening drive took 8:17 off the clock.
"We snapped the ball a lot of more in the second half, and that was the difference,” Svehla said. “We made the decision that we’re going to go right at them. We’re going to be physical and be satisfied with 4 yards a play. That’s how you get a 15-play drive.”
On the ensuing possession, Denmark put together a drive of their own. Senior quarterback Aaron McLaughlin carried the ball and spread the ball around to seniors Teddy Davenport, Azari Brown and sophomore Lake Thoman.
West’s defense was finally given a break as the third quarter came to a close, Denmark on the West 15.
First snap of the final quarter, junior lineman Billy McAllister broke through and stripped McLaughlin of the ball.
Denmark’s defense forced a three-and-out, but West’s defense didn’t budge. McLaughlin made two errant throws and was tackled for a loss by sophomore Raleigh Herbert and senior Kyle Peterson.
“We had opportunities,” Denmark head coach Mike Palmieri said. “We had the ball towards the end of the game in their zone twice. We just couldn’t make some plays. They made plays and we didn’t. It’s really simple.”
The Danes had another opportunity to regain momentum and the lead, but a high snap over McLaughlin’s head was recovered by the Wolverines.
Three plays later, freshman Ryder Stewart bounced to the outside to score with 1:11 in regulation.
Ryder Stewart extends West Forsyth's lead to 20-10
“Kobe Haynes ran great tonight,” Svehla said. “We needed someone to run in between the tackles and be physical and take those 3 or 4 yards. I thought Ryder did a good job coming in and giving us a good change of pace. He got a little more speed on the edge, and I was really happy to see him get in on that last play.”
After the final whistle, fans of both sides stayed in their stands because of COVID-19, but the home team was still able to celebrate. Svehla shook hands with Palmieri before hoisting the region trophy and then passing it around to his players.
In their first years in Forsyth, Palmieri and Svehla combined for a 10-2 region record and both teams will host a playoff game next week. It’s Denmark’s first-ever home playoff game and the first for West since 2018.
“We tip our hat to them and tell them congratulations, but we’re still building and we’ll be excited for next year to compete for another one,” Palmieri said. “This wasn’t our season to win. We’re just going to get ready to come out here next week and play football. One game doesn’t make or break our season.”