This story was updated on Sunday to include official stats.
By KELLY FENTON for The Denmark News
DENMARK – Anyone who has watched Denmark High School football this season, or even paid attention to the results, can see something has changed. The defense is faster and more aggressive, the offense looks sleeker, the attention to detail is more focused, the outcomes have been competitive.
But before a new winning tradition can be established, losses like the one the Vikings suffered on Friday night are probably inevitable and, in the long run, perhaps instructive as well.
Surrendering too many big plays after failing to wrap up a runner or win the battle for a ball in flight and making too many mistakes on offense that stalled drives or negated touchdowns, Denmark fell 27-20 to Fox Valley Lutheran at Appleton North High School in a game.
Denmark had chances to stop the Foxes on all four of their touchdown drives, while also fumbling on the FVL doorstep and having another long touchdown called back for a hold.
“That’s the difference,” said first-year head coach Tom Neuman. “One or two plays, that’s all it really takes. We’d like to get those possessions back.”
Still, there was much to like about the Vikings performance even as they fell to 1-3. Fox Valley Lutheran, who plays its games at Appleton North due to offseason vandalism of its own field, improved to 2-2.
Those things include a swarming defense that stopped the FVL running game and put constant pressure on the quarterback, the running of Brandon Wavrunek, the outside speed of Seth Alexander, the return of bruiser Gabe Wertel to the backfield and on the defensive line, the leadership of quarterback Jack Satori and even the tears after the loss – a testament to the Vikings’ commitment to their new coach and philosophy.
“Their coach is doing a great job,” said Fox Valley Lutheran head coach Adam Frey. “They’re looking so much better.”
Denmark fell in a 7-0 hole just four plays and less than two minutes into the game, the result of two long pass plays that the Viking defense nearly thwarted. The first came when back-up quarterback Isaiah Ulman, playing in place of the league’s top passer in the injured Drew Reader, was able to complete a 23-yard pass to a well-covered Jakob Ulman on the game’s first play. Two plays later, Seth Alexander battled Brendan Schulz on a long Ulman pass at the five. Though Alexander came up from the scrum with the ball, the referees ruled it a completion setting up a five-yard touchdown pass on the next play.
“I could have sworn that Seth intercepted that first one,” Neuman said. “But the call is the call. There is no replay in high school. I have to tell these guys, move on to the next play, good, bad or indifferent. But it was a tough one.”
The Vikings had several chances to thwart the Foxes along the way on their 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on FVL’s next possession, surrendering a fourth-down scramble for a first down, another tough, well-guarded catch by Ulman on third-and-15 and, finally, a 15-yard touchdown strike to Ulman in the right corner of the end zone, when he reached over defensive back Travis Wellner, who had excellent coverage again.
FVL led 13-0 barely seven minutes into the contest.
“They threw it up and got lucky a few times so that was frustrating,” said linebacker and defensive captain Jerick Czarneski. “Not a lot of things went our way. That’s happens in games. We have to overcome that.”
Denmark hung tough all night, scoring in just three plays to get back in it. Wavrunek, who finished with 148 yards on 12 carries, ripped off a 28-yard run to midfield and raced 49 yards two plays later to narrow the deficit to 13-7 with 1:27 remaining in the opening period.
But it took FVL only four plays to reclaim its earlier advantage. It was Schulz again, hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass that just cleared the fingertips of defensive back William Wallerius in the left corner of the end zone and the Vikings trailed 20-7 as the first quarter ended.
The Denmark offense continued to chug along, though, and powered its way downfield for an answering score eight plays and three-and-a-half minutes later. The big play that set it up was Satori’s 29-yard completion to Ethan Mleziva, who wrestled the ball away from the defender at the six. One play later, Gabe Wertel, in action for the first time this season, swept right and cut it up inside for a six-yard touchdown as Denmark got back to within 20-13 early in the second period.
Praise For Weidman
The Denmark defense finally got a stop when linebacker T.J. Weidman blew up a fourth-down play in the backfield. Later in the half, Wertel broke through for a sack on a fourth-and-two play and Denmark took over near midfield with less than a minute remaining.
“(Weidman) is one heck of a linebacker,” Frey said. “He gave us fits all nights.”
Neuman said Weidman is one of the most instinctual defensive players he’s coached over nearly 25 years, including at the college level.
“And he’s had to overcome a lot with injuries,” Neuman added. “He’s a guy with a great motor and he’s strong and he’s smart. Another guy who goes unnoticed is (defensive lineman) Jack St. Peter. He’s being triple teamed at times and that makes it a lot easier for the other guys.”
On a reverse following the Vikings’ fourth-down stop, Alexander went untouched around the right side, got a big block from Bradyn Polomis downfield, and went the distance for what appeared to be a tying 53-yard touchdown before half. But a holding call negated it.
The frustration continued early in the second half, when the Vikings took the opening kickoff and began a long, 14-play march that eventually reached the FVL 29. But a fumble following a 12-yard scamper turned it over at the FVL 12.
The Foxes began their own lengthy drive which eventually consumed 15 plays and 75 yards, but a missed field goal kept Denmark within a touchdown as the fourth quarter began.
But a three-and-out followed by another frustrated defensive effort delivered what turned out to be the dagger. On fourth and seven, Isaiah Ulman was trapped in the backfield, somehow managed to escape, and found Jakob Ulman all alone on the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown and a 27-13 led with 8:32 remaining in the game.
Ulman, who came into the game with 33 catches, added 10 more on Friday for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
“It Will All Come Together”
The Vikings weren’t quite done, though, going 56 yards on seven plays and scoring when Satori lofted a 25-yard touchdown pass into the arms of Alexander in the left corner of the end zone. Hailey Aschenbrenner’s PAT narrowed the deficit to just 27-20, but only 3:12 remained.
The defense surrendered one critical first down and by the time the Vikings forced a punt, only 33 seconds remained, not enough time to get anything going.
After the Viking defense gave up 179 yards through the air in the first quarter alone, it allowed fewer than 100 the rest of the way, eventually yielding 271 passing yards and 80 more on the ground. Ulman completed 19 of 38 passes.
Wavrunek, who tightened up after halftime, but Satori picked up the slack and finished with 47 yards on 10 carries, while Wertel added 21 yards on eight totes. Ethan Schwartz also picked up 12 yards on six carries and Satori completed 4 of 8 passes for 85 yards. Czarneski hauled in two of those for 31. Denmark finished with 331 yards.
“We were right there defensively,” Czarneski said. “But I’m really proud of this defense. We were really fast and aggressive. It will all come together.”
Denmark is back home on Friday at 7 p.m. to take on 0-4 Oconto Falls, who fell 42-7 to Freedom in its last outing. The Panthers lost 34-27 to Marinette in Week 3.