Although it may have surprised the rest of the state, there was no shock and awe in Polk County on Friday night.
Quite simply put, the Bulldogs accomplished what they set out to do.
Cedartown football opened the season with a hard-fought, gritty victory on the road, taking down Denmark 7-3 in Alpharetta.
Despite not gaining much coverage from statewide media for the win, Cedartown made history over the weekend. In their first ever meeting against a 7A school, the state’s largest classification, the road warriors came away with a victory.
Denmark, which has an enrollment of 2,014, could not topple the Bulldogs, a school with just 1,302 students according to the GHSA’s enrollment numbers during the 2020 classification realignments.
As one might gather from the score, there was not much offense to tell of. Two stingy defenses forced their will for 48 minutes in Alpharetta. The two teams combined for just 86 yards in the first half before the offenses found some more success in the second half.
On the second play of the third quarter, Harlem Diamond picked off a pass from Denmark quarterback Michael McClellan to give Cedartown some life. The Bulldogs then began a march down the field, resulting in a four-minute run-heavy drive to put CHS on top.
The scoring drive was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown run by Patrick Gardner. The extra point was converted by senior Mario Maldonado to make it a 7-0 advantage.
Denmark saw their strongest drive come early in the fourth quarter, as the Danes drove inside the Cedartown 5-yard line. However, the Bulldog defense didn’t lay down and instead rose to the occasion, forcing another field goal try for the Danes. This time Denmark made the chip-shot, cutting their deficit to four points.
Coach Jamie Abrams’ squad ran some clock off but was forced to punt with just under five minutes remaining. Denmark’s passing attack drove to the Cedartown 40 yard-line with around two minutes left, but Xavier Hargrove read the play perfectly. The junior linebacker undercut a receiver running an out route, picked off the pass and returned it deep into Dane territory.
The turnover, the third interception of the night, allowed Cedartown to run out the clock and finalize the 7-3 triumph.
CHS outgained Denmark 160-101 in the old-fashioned defensive battle. Cedartown was 0-for-2 passing on the night but picked up all 160 yards, 10 first downs, and one touchdown via the ground game.
Starting quarterback Reece Tanner was injured in the first half and did not return to the game. Sophomore Drew Ledbetter ran the offense in the second half, helping with the Bulldog rushing attack to gain the big season-opening win.
Denmark had a more balanced attack. The Danes were 9-for-19 through the air with 72 yards and three interceptions. Coach Mike Palmieri’s bunch gained just 29 rushing yards against a stout Bulldog defense, with only four of those coming in the second half.
The Bulldogs showed a couple signs of early-season rust, fumbling three times on the night, losing two of those, and racking up 60 yards on eight penalties. Cedartown will try to clean that up before hosting a big-time rivalry matchup this week.
Abrams and the coaching staff will aim to end a three-year losing streak to Rockmart this weekend as Cedartown gets ready to face off with their cross-county rival at Doc Ayers Field.
As always, eyes across the state of Georgia will be fixed upon Polk County for the annual clash. Fox 5 Atlanta has already announced their High 5 Sports Game of the Week will be Cedartown versus Rockmart on Friday night.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cedartown Memorial Stadium. Fans unable to make it to the game can listen to the broadcasts via Cedartown’s WGAA Radio or Rockmart’s WZOT Radio.