WRIGHTSTOWN – Wrightstown football coach Matt Binsfeld wanted to see how his team would handle some adversity against an opponent that was equally as physical as his club.
Denmark did that and then some on Friday against the top-seeded Tigers.
Wrightstown held on for a 37-29 victory against the No. 5 Vikings in a WIAA Division 4 second-round playoff game.
The Tigers (10-1) advance to face Freedom in the state quarterfinals next week.
“At the beginning of the week we said this is exactly the style of game we need,” Binsfeld said. “We need a game against a team like Denmark that is big and physical. If we can hold up to this, then we can be ready to play physical football the rest of the way.”
Wrightstown (361 rushing yards) and Denmark (340) combined for 701 yards on the ground.
The Tigers fell behind 15-0 in the first quarter and trailed 21-15 at the half by allowing 246 rushing yards, including 190 to Denmark sophomore quarterback Jon Deprey, who made touchdown runs of 36, 51 and 29 yards in the first half.
Wrightstown (10-1) answered by limiting the Vikings to three yards in the third quarter and built a 16-0 point lead a minute into the fourth quarter.
Denmark (6-5) made a comeback of its own when Deprey ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes remaining in the game.
On the ensuing Wrightstown possession the Vikings used their last timeout and forced the Tigers to attempt a punt from midfield.
The punt was blocked by Noah Brunner and appeared to be picked up and returned for a touchdown by Matt VandenHeuvel to pull Denmark to within a 2-point conversion of tying the game.
However, the referees ruled the ball down at the Wrightstown 41. Two plays later Nate Kola sealed the game with an interception of Deprey.
“I can’t fault our kids for their effort,” Denmark coach Chris Haese said. “That blocked punt at the end there was huge. I don’t know what happened there, but whatever. The referees called it, and we shouldn’t put ourselves in that position, so that’s the way it goes.”
Wrightstown started to have things go its way with the second-half kickoff, which it recovered.
“We were just trying to squib,” Binsfeld said. “It just hit him. The ball takes funny bounces this time of year. It wasn’t an intentional onside. We were just trying to squib it and keep it away from (Deprey).”
Deprey totaled 247 rushing yards and four touchdowns a week after totaling 294 rushing yards and six touchdowns in a victory at Manitowoc Roncalli.
“Jon is the perfect player for our offense,” Haese said. “He’s still a young guy and is going to improve a lot as time goes on.”
Denmark, which runs an option offense, didn’t attempt its first pass until there was less than 6 minutes remaining in the game.
Both teams favor the run, as each averages less than six passes per game.
But one of the Tigers biggest plays came through the air into a stiff wind after recovering the second-half kickoff.
Alan Barta threw a 26-yard completion to Marty Ellis into the wind to move the ball to the Denmark 1, setting up a TD run by Bryce Herlache to tie the game at 21-21.
The first play of the ensuing drive Ellis ripped off an 80-yard TD run to give the Tigers their first lead.
Wrightstown put the deciding score on the board by putting together a 14-play, 71-yard drive, which was capped by a 3-yard TD run by Stetson Burmeister. The Tigers converted three third downs and a fourth-and-1 on the possession.
It was a tough way for Denmark’s season to end. Despite being the smallest school in the Bay, the Vikings advanced to the playoffs for a second straight year and won a playoff game for the first time since 2007.
“Our group accomplished quite a bit,” Haese said. “It hurts right now, but in the end a really good team beat us.”
Wrightstown and Denmark were facing each other for the first time since 2006, when the Tigers won a one-point game in the state quarterfinals.
The two squads will be joining the Eastern Valley Conference when next season’s realignment takes place.
If Friday’s game was any indication, the two nearby teams have a budding rivalry forming.
“I think it’s going to be great for both of our communities to have a rival this close, who you can play close games with,” Binsfeld said. “I think it’s going to be great in the future and push both our programs to get better.”
Denmark 15 6 0 8 – 29
Wrightstown 0 15 14 8 – 37
D: Cole Osterloh 26 field goal
D: Jon Deprey 36 run (Kick failed)
D: Deprey 51 run (Kick failed)
W: Jacob Gilson 16 pass from Alan Barta (Barta run)
D: Deprey 29 run (Kick failed)
W: Stetson Burmeister 3 run (Jacob Peters kick)
W: Bryce Herlache 1 run (Kick blocked)
W: Marty Ellis 80 run (Ellis run)
W: Burmeister 2 run (Hunter Kussow run)
D: Deprey 67 run (Nicholas Kufalk run)
Rushing – D: Jon Deprey 22-247; W: Marty Ellis 13-164.
Passing – D: Deprey 1-4-1-13; W: Alana Barta 3-6-0-46.
Receiving – D: Marcus Pribyl 1-13; W: M. Ellis 2-30.