Kernels' homecoming rally falls short
Despite a second-half surge, the Kernels couldn't pull out a victory on homecoming.
Rapid City Central (3-3) led 26-0 early in the third quarter before Mitchell (0-6) scored 21 straight points in front of an estimated crowd of more than 2,000, but the Cobblers held on late and finished with a 33-21 win Friday night at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell.
"This is the first time that we really fought," Mitchell coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "We responded and came up with some great defensive stops and made some plays defensively.
"No matter the outcome, I'm very proud of the effort we put forth."
Rapid City Central led from the start as Asher Pikula took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to put the Cobblers up 7-0.
"That's only the second kick return he's had this year because teams will not kick to him," Central coach Trent Pikula said. "I was surprised they kicked to him. He just needs a little bit and that was big. That's what you look for to start a game."
Pikula came up big later in the quarter, intercepting Mitchell quarterback Matt Larson to set up a touchdown drive to put Rapid City Central up 14-0.
The game continued to be in the Cobblers' favor until Chase Harms blocked an extra-point attempt from Rapid City Central in the third quarter.
The Kernels used the next drive to go down the field and missed a touchdown as Landon Neugebauer was wide open down the middle of the field, but Larson's pass ended up just out of reach when the sophomore quarterback was pressured.
Mitchell was forced to punt, but on the next drive the Kernels made sure the ball was in Neugebauer's hands with a handoff on the first play that went for an 18-yard touchdown. The short drive was set up by an Evan Mastel interception.
"We were out to make our own breaks instead of just letting things happen to us," VanOverschelde said.
After allowing one first down, Mitchell forced the Cobblers to punt and got into the end zone for the second time of the game. Then Larson found Beau Brown wide open down the left side of the field and Brown hauled in the pass and took it all the way for a 60-yard touchdown.
It was the first of two touchdown receptions for the sophomore receiver, who also had an interception in the game.
"We had chemistry on offense and defense in the second half," Brown said. "We'll just have to keep working on that, but this was a great team effort."
With the Cobblers' lead trimmed to 26-21, Brown recorded his interception and with about 7 minutes left in the ballgame, the Kernels had the ball.
Things looked to be going Mitchell's way as Larson took off on an option and lost the ball only to have Brown recover and take it to the Kernels' 48-yard line.
Another Mitchell fumble on third down allowed Rapid City Central to regain possession and the Cobblers took advantage, pounding the ball with the run game and adding a touchdown with 1:47 remaining.
"If you commit six turnovers it makes things tough, but our kids at least made it close," VanOverschelde said.
Turnovers were an issue for both teams, Mitchell was intercepted four times -- Larson three times and Neugebauer on a halfback toss -- and lost two fumbles, while Rapid City Central threw three interceptions and lost one fumble.
Despite throwing three interceptions, Larson had success in the air, completing 16 of 27 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team with 61 yards on the ground, but was taken off the field because of injury on the Kernels' last offensive play.
VanOverschelde said the coaching staff was concerned he may have suffered concussion-like symptoms. The extent of the injury is unknown.
"Matt is a competitor and for him not to be able to finish is alarming," VanOverschelde said.
For the game, Brown led all receivers with five catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Mastel hauled in four passes for 54 yards and Neugebauer caught the ball four times for eight yards and rushed for 34 yards and a score.
Defensively, the Kernels had big performances from Kirby Fuerst, Jon Jamison and Mastel. Fuerst had a team-high 16 tackles and an interception, Jamison had 10 tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles and Mastel recorded seven tackles and an interception.
Mitchell returns to action in hopes of its first win against Friday against Sioux Falls Lincoln at Howard Wood Field in Mitchell.
Notes: The term "homecoming" had an even stronger meaning for Mitchell's Dylanger Pierson. Pierson's brother, Logan Smith, delivered the game ball before play began. Smith, a specialist in the 842nd Engineering Company out of Spearfish, was deactivated Thursday after serving one year in Afghanistan with the military as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Friday was the first day Pierson had seen his brother in months. "I'm pretty stoked to have him back home," Pierson said. "If I had to pick any game for him to come home it had to be homecoming."