Updated from Saturday to include official stats.
By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – When you haven’t made the playoffs in four years, produce just eight wins over three seasons and, as recently as week 2 of the current campaign, own a six-game losing streak, winning three straight does not necessarily constitute a turnaround. Especially when two of those victories come against winless teams.
It does, however, provide a program and its fans reason for hope.
And that is what the Denmark Vikings carried into their battle with unbeaten Little Chute on a cold and drizzly Friday night at Leiterman Field – hope, along with a wary sense that this game might offer a real test as to how far this team had come in eight weeks under new head coach Tom Neuman.
Well, if you went only by the first-half numbers, not so good. The Vikings garnered no first downs and just eight total yards by intermission against a defense that was allowing fewer than 10 points a game.
But, as they have done so often this season, the Vikings never went away, found their footing, and ended up giving the Mustangs (8-0, 7-0 in league play) a second-half battle while ultimately falling short, 21-7.
“I sound like a broken record but this team, they have a lot of fight, a lot of heart and they’re super physical and they don’t back down from anybody,” said Neuman, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall, 3-4 in North Eastern Conference play. “We’re not quite there yet. You saw (Little Chute’s) numbers; you saw their size. Their guys are definitely living in the weight room and we’re getting there.
“We’re working to get to that level and there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll get there shortly. These kids have a tremendous passion for football.”
While the loss forces Denmark into a must-win for a postseason berth when it travels to Freedom next Friday, that second-half showing undeniably redeemed an otherwise solemn evening. Denmark, which trailed 14-0 at the half, played Little Chute even on the scoreboard after intermission, while outgaining the Mustangs 149-120 in total yards. The Vikings even had the ball at midfield with a chance to tie late in the third quarter, but a third-down sack followed by an 11-play, 65-yard Little Chute touchdown drive early in the fourth period sealed their fate.
Still, it was a rude awakening for a team that had rung up more than 1,400 total yards and 147 points during its win streak. Brandon Wavrunek came in as the league’s top rusher, averaging nearly 10 yards a carry and rolling up more than 500 yards in the past two weeks alone. But the Mustangs had a plan and the big bodies and speed to execute it and held the shifty senior to just 45 yards on 21 carries. Wavrunek has shown he requires just a sliver of a seam to do damage but there were no slivers and no seams on Friday.
“If I was playing us, I would spend all week keying on (Wavrunek) and that’s what they did,” Neuman said. “He’s obviously a big part of our offense and you saw us trying to mix it up and go to the air a little more, but the weather let us down a little bit. But hat’s off to them. They’re a well-coached team.”
Little Chute head coach Brian Ryczkowski had nothing but praise for the Vikings.
“We’re very fortunate to get out of here with a win,” said Ryczkowski, whose team clinched at least a tie for the conference title when Wrightstown fell on Friday. “Denmark has really put a press on our conference. They’re a quality opponent and definitely are worthy of being in the playoffs. Credit to them for making a push in the second half and giving us fits. I think Freedom really is going to have their hands full next week.”
Mustang Size Advantage
With the passing game limited due to dampness, Denmark was left with few options. On the other side of the ball, Little Chute’s line, which featured two 250-pounders and another that went 285, provided big surges that allowed Isaac Van Deurzen and Bryce Schumacher big chunks. Despite that, the first quarter ended scoreless, thanks to fumble recoveries by Travis Wellner and Charlie St. Peter on the Mustangs’ first two possessions. The second of those fumbles came at the Denmark one after Little Chute had been denied twice inside the four.
Little Chute went up 6-0 early in the second quarter on Van Deurzen’s two-yard run following two third-down pass interference calls against Denmark. Though Jack Satori and Wellner combined to stop Little Chute on fourth down on its next possession, the Mustangs went up 14-0 in the final minute of the half, marching 47 yards on four plays and scoring on Van Deurzen’s one-yard plunge.
Denmark went three-and-out on its first three possessions, failed on a fake-punt reverse on its fourth and went three-and-out again on its final possession of the half. The Vikings ran 16 plays and held the ball for barely 7 minutes in the opening two periods; Little Chute ran 37 plays and held possession for nearly 17. The Mustangs outgained the Vikings 219-8.
And when the second half opened with a Little Chute interception, things looked bleaker yet. But the Vikings forced a punt and took over at their own 24. Wavrunek’s 11-yard toss play gave Denmark its first first down of the contest and began a 9-play, 76-yard scoring drive. The big play was Jack Satori’s 26-yard completion to brother Kenny Satori, a freshman. It took a great scramble to hit pay dirt, with Jack Satori frantically running toward the left sideline to escape three Mustangs before flinging the ball against his body to Seth Alexander for a 10-yard touchdown that whittled the deficit to 14-7 with 4:16 left in the third.
Win And They’re In
Following a Little Chute three-and-out, two more Satori-to-Satori connections and a Wavrunek run netted Denmark two first downs and moved the Vikings across midfield and seemed to have the Mustangs reeling. The drive stalled, though, and Little Chute escaped several big holes on its next possession to drive 65 yards and go up 21-7. Denmark had the Mustangs facing a third-and-14, a third-and-four and a second-and-23 along the way.
Those defensive lapses, several critical penalties and more than a few dropped passes cut short Denmark’s comeback bid, though Satori’s arm and scrambling allowed the Vikings to reach the Little Chute 10 in the final seconds before they ran out of downs in the final minute.
“A couple of times we had them backed up and let them out of the gate, so that’s on me,” said Neuman, who also serves as the defensive coordinator. “The defense has to get those stops and get the ball back to the offense for more possessions. But we knew that was Little Chute’s ‘MO.’ They were going to be methodical and drive and keep the ball away from our offense.”
The Mustangs held possession for nearly 30 of the 48 minutes and finished with 339 yards of offense behind the one-two running punch of Van Deurzen and Schumacher and the arm of Noah Mueller (11 of 16 for 164 yards).
For Denmark, Satori was 6 of 19 for 78 yards with three of those completions going to Kenny Satori. He also scrambled for 38 yards on eight carries.
“What a great way to go out on your home field, throwing to your brother and having your brother blocking for you,” Neuman said. “They’re fun to watch together. But they’re all fun to watch. I’m just proud to be their coach.”
Jack Satori led Denmark defensively with 10 tackles and three assists, while Jerick Czarneski added seven solos and four assists and T.J. Weidman six solos and one assist, including one for loss. Gabe Wertel made four solo stops and four assists, with two stops in the backfield.
“If we beat Freedom I think we’re in,” Neuman said. “These kids are more determined than ever to punch that ticket and get into the playoffs.”