Vikings’ big plays lead to first head-coaching victory for new coach

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This story has been updated to include quotes

By KELLY FENTON  for The Denmark News

DENMARK – On Denmark High School’s third play from scrimmage on Friday night in Clintonville, Brandon Wavrunek went off tackle, cut to the right sideline, cut back inside near the goal line and completed a 57-yard touchdown run.

It was the first – but not the longest — of many explosive plays for the Vikings, who went on to crush the hapless Truckers, 41-7, handing Tom Neuman his first-ever varsity high school victory in his third game at Denmark. The win also ended the program’s six-game losing streak dating back to last season.

Wavrunek rushed for 170 yards on 13 carries in a little more than a half, and the Vikings, narrow losers against top-tier opponents over the first two weeks, amassed nearly 400 yards of total offense, including 360 on the ground.

“This is a special victory,” said Neuman, who told his team afterward that every winning streak has to start somewhere. “I’ll always remember this. That was electrifying and there’s more of those coming.

“I’m so happy for those guys. It’s tough when I’m telling them to hang in there and they have to wait to the third game to get that victory.”

The Truckers, losers of their first two games by a combined 69 points, struggled to wrap up Viking ball carriers throughout the first half, and Denmark made them pay with three touchdowns over the first 10 minutes of the game. With Hailey Aschenbrenner (5 of 6 on extra-point tries) tacking on PATs, the Vikings surged to a 21-0 lead late in the first period.

The defense, meanwhile, dominated, limiting Clintonville to seven yards rushing in the first half, and just 30 overall. Especially big again was linebacker T.J. Weidman (unofficially, 9 tackles). Mason Karl added a late interception and Jackson Koenig pounced on a fumble forced by Weidman early in the second period. Overall, the Truckers managed just 140 total yards.

“The linebackers did a great job tackling and a great job pursuing on their outside run plays,” Neuman said. “All these guys are run-around and physical and they understand they play in a very physical league. T.J. is one of the leading tacklers in the NEC and I don’t know if anyone knows about him. He played d-line last year and I think he’s found a really good home at linebacker. He’s a tackling machine.”

Seth Alexander and quarterback Jack Satori also came up big for the Vikings. Satori had touchdown runs of 16 and 18 yards, both spectacular in their own way. On third and four, he appeared to be stopped twice but carried tacklers into the end zone for a 14-0 lead midway through the first period. One series later, Satori eluded a sack 10 yards in the backfield before scrambling left and down the sideline for another score and a 21-0 advantage.

Satori finished with 50 yards on nine carries and was 4 of 9 passing for 27 yards.

Weidman’s 22-yard scamper set up the speedy Alexander for a toss play that he carried down the right sideline after escaping a tackle in the backfield for a 34-yard touchdown. Alexander flashed the speed even more dramatically when he answered the Truckers’ only touchdown of the night by returning the kickoff 78 yards, beating the last defender to the corner and racing down the right sidelines for a 34-7 lead at half.

“I looked a Seth’s film last year and he made a lot of extra cuts,” Neuman said. “I told him you gotta believe your speed and that you’re faster than that other guy. I think he understands now the angles and the speed he possesses and when to use it and when to cut back.”

Denmark was without offensive line coach Rick Diny, whose mother died earlier in the week. Neuman said his linemen were extra motivated. Denmark finished with 11 double-digit yardage runs, with five of those covering 20 yards or better.

“Rick is a guy who took me under this wing when I got to Denmark,” Neuman said. “The o-line loves him. He’s a great coach and I’m really lucky to have him on my staff. I kept turning around and looking for him. The line gave the kind of performance he’d really be proud of.”

The Vikings could have had an even bigger advantage, missing out on a couple of great scoring chances, one when they reached the Trucker 18 early in the second period but stalled, and another following a failed fourth-down play by Clinton near midfield with less than a minute to go. Wavrunek ripped off a 31-yard run to the 11, but a holding penalty ended the threat right before halftime.

The lopsided win allowed Neuman to rest most of his starters the entire second half and gave running back Ethan Schwartz an opportunity to get into the flow of the offense. He took advantage, finishing with 63 yards on 15 totes, including the final touchdown of the night when he went in from a yard out to cap off a 10-play, 47-yard drive.

“Ethan is a hard-nosed, tough runner,” Neuman said. “And he plays almost every snap on defense. You don’t see that very often in a sophomore, but he has a lot of moxie. He went to state in wrestling and I think that experience gives you a little more maturity.”

Jerick Czarneski added 20 yards on three carries and Reece Piontek came off the bench in the second half and completed his only pass for 11 yards.

Denmark travels to 1-2 Fox Valley Lutheran on Friday at 7 p.m. Fox Valley is coming off losses to Luxemburg-Casco and Freedom after opening the season with a 41-7 victory over Clintonville.

“They kept hanging on and believing,” Neuman said. “You could see they were hungry for that ‘W’ by the way they came out of the gate. This feels really good.”

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