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Football: Denmark loses QB Nelson to injury, drops opener to Roswell
Denmark graphic 08-19-22

Kohl Yearwood can catch the football.

But during Friday's season opener at Roswell, Denmark asked its senior wide receiver to catch, run and throw the football.

Yearwood corralled each of quarterback Jacob Nelson's first two pass attempts — no problem. But after Nelson left the game with a shoulder injury midway through the first half, Yearwood was the one tasked with engineering the Danes' offense.

Denmark couldn't seem to replicate the success it had with Nelson under center, as the Danes fell 35-10 to the Hornets.

"Kohl's taken a couple [snaps], but he can only do so much," Denmark coach Mike Palmieri said. "He works his butt off as a wide receiver to do what we have to do. We just have to do better. It don't matter if Jacob played or not — they were the better football team."

Denmark's offense appeared in sync to start the game. Running back Amon Williams darted up the field for an 11-yard gain, then Nelson targeted Yearwood, who had found a hole in Roswell's zone coverage for 13 more yards.

But that drive stalled, as did Denmark's ensuing drive, with the latter ending when Roswell defenders Mark Trigg and Kobby Sakyi-Prah hammered Nelson into the turf on a third-down sack.

Nelson returned to lead the next drive, hooking up with Aidan Brozena on a 48-yard catch-and-run, though it served as Nelson's final completion of the night. Five plays later, Yearwood took the ball on a reverse, made a cut and fell into the end zone to give Denmark its first points of the season.

The score came moments after Roswell, which was ranked No. 4 in the AJC preseason poll for Class 6A, grabbed a brief 7-0 lead.

The Hornets attempted just two passes during their first two drives. Quarterback K.J. Smith settled in shortly after and fired a dart between Chris Elko's numbers on a slant route, then lofted a perfect pass up the sideline for Dylan Williams, who won a one-on-one matchup and carried the ball down to Denmark's 10-yard line.

Elko then scored on a 1-yard plunge for the game's first score.

Denmark failed to capitalize after a big return by Jeremy Burchfield on a pooch kick, missing a 43-yard field goal and turning the ball over.

Smith responded with his most impressive play of the game, stepping up in the pocket despite a heavy Denmark blitz and finding Ethan Nation streaking downfield for a 54-yard TD pass.

Smith finished 8-for-17 passing with 155 yards and two scores, adding five carries for 29 yards.

Denmark trailed 14-7 at halftime, but the Danes enjoyed their most efficient drive of the night immediately after the break, as Yearwood took a read option 12 yards on the half's first play, then completed his first pass when he hit Hamilton Diboyan for a 6-yard gain.

Also during the drive, Yearwood scrambled for 9 1/2 yards on a third-and-10, which led to Amon Williams converting a fourth-and-inches situation to give the Danes first-and-10 from Roswell's 41-yard line. But a fumbled snap on second down proved to be a fatal blow, and Denmark asked punter Shaun Alie to pin the Hornets deep.

Alie did.

His punt was downed at Roswell's 10-yard line, and on the very next play, William Hodges recovered a fumble to give Denmark first-and-goal from the 9.

But the first two plays of the drive resulted in a loss of three yards, then a well-thrown ball by Yearwood to the corner of the end zone slipped through the hands of Lake Thoman and forced the Danes to settle for a field goal.

Denmark had two recognizable chances to steal momentum for the first time all night, but each opportunity came and went unrealized.

The Danes forced back-to-back incompletions on Roswell's first drive after the field goal, setting up a third-and-10. Smith dropped back and opted to run, but Hodges stayed home to contain Roswell's dynamic quarterback and limit Smith to a 7-yard gain, forcing a punt.

But Denmark muffed the punt and handed the Hornets first-and-10 from the Danes' 22-yard line. Moments later, linebacker Dee Crayton dropped into pass coverage and played a post pattern perfectly, winding up in front of Elko and nearly picking off Smith's pass.

Three plays later, Smith dropped a pass into the corner of the end zone for Dylan Williams, who made an athletic play to locate the ball and get one foot down for the score.

Roswell scored on three of its four second-half drives, as a 60-yard run by NyKahi Davenport set up a 12-yard TD run by Synkwan Smith, then Davenport added a 2-yard score of his own to make the score 35-10 with 48 seconds remaining in the game.

Denmark, which will host Cambridge at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26, totaled 180 yards of offense, including just 61 yards in the second half.

"We have nothing," Palmieri said. "We have one quarterback on the whole campus, and he got hurt. It is what it is."

Michael McClellan, who would have backed up Nelson, transferred to Johns Creek during the offseason.

Yearwood was 3-for-5 passing for 18 yards and led the Danes in rushing (13 carries for 57 yards) and receiving (2 catches for 13 yards). Amon Williams added 40 yards on 23 carries.

"We would have lost the game the way we played if Jacob played or not," Palmieri said. "We've got to play better football, we've got to coach better, we've got to play tougher and we've got to coach tougher. We can't beat this football team making the mistakes we made, especially fumbling the ball and not tackling."

Roswell took a moment at the start of the game to honor former quarterback Robbie Roper, who tragically died last year following the football season. Roswell's offense ran the play clock down to zero, with all 11 players holding up five fingers. (Roper wore No. 5 for the Hornets.)

Denmark, whose players and coaches also held up five fingers, declined the delay of game penalty.