Updated from Saturday to include official stats.
By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – The Denmark Vikings exited Marinette High School’s football stadium on Friday night to the bass-heavy thump of House of Pain’s Jump Around, which blasted from the team’s Viking-themed van parked right outside the gates.
The song, which expresses in words and beat the very essence of jubilation mixed with swagger, couldn’t have been more appropriate. Something special appears to be happening at Denmark under first-year head coach Tom Neuman, and that something was on full display during the Vikings’ 48-12 pasting of the Marines – Denmark’s third straight win and, indeed, third straight dominating win.
“There was crispness in the air when I woke up this morning and I just had a real good feeling,” said Neuman, who has spent the past 15 years in Texas enduring eighty-degree temps this time of year. “And I know where that feeling comes from. It’s nothing magic. It’s these guys who work and prepare so hard. They watch film; they practice so hard; they encourage each other in the weight room.
“They’re getting ready for the second season and they know they have to win each week to make it.”
While the first two in the winning streak might have been predictable – Oconto Falls and Shawano remain winless – Friday night’s beatdown of a solid Marinette squad was not. But all three featured the same elements: fast and aggressive defense; a fluid, increasingly multi-faceted offense; and a confidence that seems more and more settled in.
The other recurring theme was Brandon Wavrunek, who posted his gaudiest numbers yet – 296 yards on 24 carries. That followed a 252-yard, 5-touchdown eruption against Shawano a week earlier and brings his eye-popping totals to 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“The field just feels wide open to me,” Wavrunek said. “It’s like there’s no one there. And everyone is blocking so well, so it makes it easier.”
Wavrunek is rushing at more than 10 yards per tote and he has piled up those numbers via a variety of strengths: great vision, an ability to cut on a dime and, yes, even power. It has not hurt that the offensive line of Mason Karl, Ryan Wochenske, Griffin Skaletski, Jackson Koenig and Bradyn Polomis has cohered into a formidable unit.
“Brandon is running in three and almost four dimensions,” Neuman said. “He’s jump-cutting laterally, able to change speed. He’s patient one play and the next play he’ll hit the jets. So, he’s a guy that can run different styles all in the same play. And he’s very powerful.”
And Neuman appears to be trying to add new twists to the offense to complement the production of Wavrunek. On Friday, the Vikings went to the air – not a lot, but about as effectively as you could ever hope for. Three of Jack Satori’s four completions went for touchdowns, including Seth Alexander plucking a ball from the helmet of his defender and racing off for a 61-yard touchdown to take all the momentum and a 27-6 lead into the locker room.
“One thing that’s kind of hidden is that Jack makes a lot of on-field adjustments,” Neuman said of his senior quarterback. “Sometimes we’ll just call on him and he’ll call the play. It’s really effective because when Jack senses a weakness he knows how to attack it.”
That play was important because the Marines had just embarked on their most productive drive of the evening and cut a 21-0 lead to 21-6 with 4:41 left in the half. But that Satori-to-Alexander strike before half, combined with a soul-crushing 73-yard, 11-play drive that opened the second half squelched any remaining doubt that the Vikings would win their third straight game for the first time since the 2014 season, which was also the last time a Denmark team had surged above the .500 mark.
The Vikings improved to 4-3, 3-3 in North Eastern Conference play, with their sternest test to date coming to town on Friday in the form of first-place, unbeaten Little Chute. In just seven weeks, Denmark has half the number of wins it took them the past three years to accumulate.
During its 3-game streak, Denmark has outscored its opponents, 147-20 and outgained them by nearly a thousand yards, while rushing for 1,120 yards and totaling more than 1,400 overall.
The Marines (3-4, 2-4 in conference) appeared set to make hay with their double-wing attack against Denmark, ripping off runs of 9, 11, 5 and 4 yards on the first four plays of the game. They would barely add 60 more rushing yards the rest of the night, and most of those were accounted for with quarterback scrambles. The Viking defense surrendered 150 yards of offense to a team that came in averaging nearly 200 yards rushing and almost 300 overall.
“They’re able to really get focused,” Neuman said in explaining his defense’s dominance. “They want to win every play and when you’re playing at such a focused point to win every battle up front, that’s what happens. These kids are stubborn. They don’t want to give up easy yards. They want to make them earn hard yards. And when they do give up a long play, they’ll be on the I-pad or asking coaches about making adjustments.
“When kids are figuring things out on their own, it makes our jobs much easier.”
Leading the way defensively once again was linebacker T.J. Weidman’s four tackles — including a sack and a tackle for loss — and six assists. Schwartz added five solos, four assists and a TFL, while Mike Rabas had four solos, two assists, a sack and a TFL. Gabe Wertel also added a sack, a solo and four assists.
Feeding Off Positive Energy
After Denmark stopped Marinette’s promising opening drive, the Vikings needed just four plays to cover 77 yards, with Wavrunek providing a preview of what was to come with a 46-yard run on the first play and setting up Ethan Schwartz toss play that covered 23 yards for the score and a 7-0 lead after Hailey Aschenbrenner converted the first of her six extra-point kicks.
“If you watched our o-line tonight, hats off to Coach (Richard) Diny,” Neuman said. “I can’t tell you how big some of those holes were they were opening up. It was a challenge to them. They saw how big and physical Marinette was. This was a team that pushed around Wrightstown and Luxemburg some and even Little Chute a bit in the first half.”
Though the Vikings failed to cash in on Kenny Satori’s recovery of the ensuing onside kick – the first of only two possessions that did not result in Denmark scores – they marched 50 yards on six plays and took a 14-0 lead early in the second half when Satori’s play-action pass found Will Wallerius wide open in the right end zone.
Ethan Mleziva hauled in Satori’s second TD pass, this one a lofted aerial hauled in near the left pylon and extending the lead to 21-0 midway through the second period. Wavrunek ripped off a 39-yard run and Casey Kropp made a diving, sliding catch along the way to pay dirt.
A couple of quarterback scrambles set up a Marinette touchdown following a 12-play, 62-yard drive but with just 33 seconds left in the half, Seth Alexander reached in front to grab a Satori pass over his defender at the Marine 30, then turned and ran untouched to complete a 61-yard touchdown for a 27-6 lead at intermission.
Wavrunek capped off the Vikings’ opening series of the second half with a 4-yard touchdown after a drive that ate up nearly half of the third period and the lead grew to 34-6. Though Marinette cut that to 34-12, Wavrunek had five carries on an 8-play drive that ended with his 6-yard touchdown and a 41-12 in the final seconds of the third.
The final touchdown of the night came via the defense, when Griffin Skaletski scooped up a fumble at the 10-yard line and rumbled in to set the final margin.
Denmark finished with 345 yards rushing and 447 total yards and 23 first downs.
“The atmosphere and energy is different and new and we’re just feeding off it and having a good time,” Wavrunek said, just as House of Pain began to blare from the parking lot.