Kernels fall to Watertown
By ROGER MERRIAM
WATERTOWN — This early deficit wasn’t hard for the Watertown Arrows football team to overcome.
A week after erasing a 20-point deficit late in the first half in a victory over Sioux Falls O’Gorman, the Arrows spotted Mitchell an early touchdown before rolling to a 34-14 Eastern South Dakota Conference victory Friday night at Watertown Stadium.
Watertown, third-rated in Class 11AA, improved to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the ESD. Mitchell, fifth-rated in Class 11AA, fell to 3-4 and 2-3 in conference play.
“Other than the first two series of the game, I’m pretty happy with what our kids did tonight because they played hard, they really did,” said Watertown head coach Steve Svendsen, whose squad may have played its most complete game of the season. “We have to do that, because if we’re going to be successful in the playoffs against good teams, we have to play a full game.”
The rough patch came early for the Arrows, who were stopped on three plays in their opening possession of the game and then watched the Kernels use a variety of running plays to march 51 yards for a touchdown — 1-yard plunge by sophomore quarterback Kanin Nelson.
Watertown responded by scoring 34 unanswered points and was in full cruise control with a 34-7 lead after three quarters.
The big key for the Arrows was not only another big game from senior running back Shay Bratland, but an equally-impressive performance by senior quarterback Logan Gabriel.
Facing another defense intent on packing the line to slow down Bratland, who has ran for 925 yards and scored 14 touchdowns this season, the Arrows went to the air behind Gabriel. He connected with Jess Poppen on a 60-yard scoring strike late in the first quarter that tied the game and then hooked up twice with Bratland on TD passes — one that covered 81 yards and the other 17. The scores lifted Watertown to a 21-7 halftime advantage.
Mitchell also helped seal its fate in the second quarter, having a touchdown run nullified by a penalty and turning the football over deep in their own territory, while trying to mount a potential game-tying drive late in the half. The fumble, recovered by Watertown’s Mitch Koehn, let to Bratland’s second TD reception with 16 seconds remaining.
“Obviously you have to give Watertown a lot of credit. They’re a good football team and they took advantage of the mistakes we made,” said Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde. “We were just our own worst enemies, from the standpoint of having some positive things happen early and not being able to capitalize.”
The Kernels were hopeful of getting back in the game early in the second half, but Bratland ended those hopes with a 56-yard TD run on the Arrows’ first possession. He added another 14-yard TD run later in the period.
The runs helped Bratland surpass the 100-yard mark in the game, finishing with 101 yards. Gabriel completed eight of 16 passes for a season-best 220 yards and three TDs, hitting Poppen four times for 104 yards and Bratland twice for 98.
The Kernels did a good job running the football. They ran it 56 times for 191 yards, although a good portion of those came in the fourth quarter. Mitch Johnson ran for 93 yards and Landon Neugebauer 83. Nelson, who was sacked five times, also had some success running the ball and added his second TD of the game on a 5-yard scamper midway through the final period.
VanOverschelde felt the third quarter ended up being his team’s downfall.
“We wanted to come out with a little bit of fire and try to put the football game back together,” he said. “Obviously that wasn’t in the cards because the third quarter was probably our worst quarter tonight.”
Trevor Jutting made eight tackles and Joe Foley and Eric Gauer each six for the Arrow defense, which also got an interception from Poppen and sacks from six different players.
Watertown visits Brookings Thursday in its final regular-season game with a chance to secure the No. 2 seed for the Class 11AA playoffs. The Kernels also will have seeding implications on the line when they host Huron on Thursday.
“We’re lucky there’s a little football left to play,” said VanOverschelde. “We’ll have to take the positives, learn from the mistakes and go forward.”