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Mitchell senior Gramm Johnson runs the ball during a play at the Kernels’ practice Wednesday at the field south of Joe Quintal Field. (Brooke Cersosimo/Republic)

MHS looks to knock off No. 1-ranked Yankton

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Experience is beneficial in any sport, and that’s what Mitchell High School football coach Kent VanOverschelde says he has plenty of this year. The Kernels return eight starters on both sides of the ball for the coming season.

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The Kernels will see just how much experience they’ve gained over the past year in their first game of the season. Mitchell opens its season against Eastern South Dakota Conference rival Yankton at 7 p.m. today in Yankton. The Bucks routed Mitchell in last year’s meeting, holding the Kernels scoreless and winning 40-0.

Yankton is picked as the top-ranked preseason team in Class AA — after eight schools moved to a Class AAA, leaving the double-A field up for grabs.

“Knowing they’re number one doesn’t bother us,” Mitchell senior outside linebacker Jon Jamison said after Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “It makes us want to beat them even more.”

The Kernels have a slew of experienced offensive players back this season, including junior running backs Mitch Johnson and Landon Neugebauer, combined for 602 yards last season. Neugebauer tore his ACL last year, ironically, at Yankton.

“Having Mitch and Landon back in the backfield is going to help us move the football, ultimately putting our defense in a good situation,” said VanOverschelde, whose team was 1-8 last season.

The Bucks also return their leading rusher, Levi Davis, who also recovered from an ACL tear during the offseason. Last season, Davis had 734 yards on 107 carries and had five touchdowns. The Bucks rushed for twice as many yards as the Kernels, gaining 2,465 rushing yards last year.

With the experience on both teams in the backfield, new faces will line up at quarterback.

Sophomore Kanin Nelson will lead Mitchell’s pistol spread offense, while junior Mason Strahl will control the Bucks’ offense. Strahl replaces Michael Rucker, who threw for more than 1,000 yards and had seven passing touchdowns last season.

Last year, Matt Larson was Mitchell’s quarterback, throwing for 705 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore. Nelson, who was Larson’s backup, completed 11 of 32 attempts for 83 yards, filling in as a part-time quarterback during his freshman season.

This year, Nelson will start at quarterback, while Larson will take over a starting defensive back spot, while also playing offense as a utilityman.

For his offense to be successful, VanOverschelde said the Kernels will need strong play from their offensive line, which includes seniors Mitch Morgan, Preston Skinner, Andrew Getty and Dylanger Pierson and junior Chandler Nelson. Getty, Nelson and Pierson all were starters last season.

“A focal point from the scrimmage was improving up front,” VanOverschelde said. “That’s been big attention all week, and we’ve worked on getting quality repetitions and keeping things as fundamentally sound as we can.”

Even with new quarterbacks for both teams, both coaches feel confident about moving the, whether on the ground or through the air.

“(Strahl) is fresh off the press, but I think we can mix it up pretty well,” said Yankton coach Arlin Likness, whose team was 7-4 last year. “We have an open offense right now and we’ll decide what we can get done when we see the opponent.”

Last season, the Bucks averaged 26.5 points per game and scored most of their points in the first half. VanOverschelde said his defense has looked strong from day one of fall camp and is continuing to improve.

Jamison said the key to holding the Bucks off the scoreboard is to shut down the pass.

“We need to make sure we don’t let pass plays get by us and really close out,” Jamison said. “We’ve got to make sure they don’t get outside of us and really keep them down instead of letting them come at us.”

With all of the variables, Likness said his top-ranked team is still inexperienced and has a long road ahead.

“We need to grow as a team,” he said. “We need to figure out where Mitchell is because they have experience and they’re a dangerous team because we don’t know where they stand right now.”

VanOverschelde said the game will be determined on toughness.

“Yankton is very physical and we’re going to have to match that,” he said. “We’re going to have to exceed it be more physically and mentally tough than them.”

When/Where: 7 p.m. today in Yankton.

Last meeting: Yankton shut out Mitchell 40-0 on Oct. 12, 2012 at Yankton.

Coaches: Mitchell’s Kent VanOverschelde, seventh year; Yankton’s Arlin Likness, 15th year.

Forecast: 87 degrees and partly cloudy at kickoff with south wind at 11 mph. There is a 10 percent chance of precipitation.

Game notes: Yankton has a 29-game winning streak over the Kernels. Mitchell’s last victory over the Bucks came in 1987. … Along with being head coach, VanOverschelde is the offensive coordinator for Mitchell and will call plays, along with directing the special teams. Arend Kuyper is the defensive coordinator, Ron Parks is the offensive line coach and Tom Starr is the defensive line coach. The Kernels have three other coaches on staff in Travis Carpenter, Dustin Wheeler and Pat Larson. … Mitchell’s kicker tonight likely will be Hakon Gustafson Gimrer, a 140-pound, 5-11 senior. Gimrer, who wears jersey No. 1, is an exchange student from Norway. … Although Yankton is ranked No. 1 in the Class AA poll, the Bucks were picked to finish third in the Eastern South Dakota Conference, according to a Daily Republic survey of league coaches. Mitchell was picked to finish last. Last year, Yankton’s only ESD loss was to Brandon Valley. … Mitchell’s Landon Neugebauer, a junior, is the top returning receiver for the Kernels after catching 26 passes for 235 yards in 2012. Tight end Ethan Jones caught 16 passes for 142 yards and receiver Beau Brown had 13 receptions for 172 yards. … The top returning tackler for Mitchell is Jon Jamison, who had 50 tackles last year. He also had two interceptions and two sacks. … Yankton quarterback Mason Strahl was a backup last year as a sophomore. He was 1-for-5 for 0 yards last season. … Yankton’s Levi Davis hurt his knee last year but still played in nine games, rushing for 734 yards. The Bucks’ other starter in the backfield tonight, Evan Schroeder, gained 428 yards.

Mitchell projected starters

Position: Name, year, height, weight

QB: Kanin Nelson, sophomore, 6-3, 185

RB: Mitch Johnson, junior, 5-9, 185

WR: Beau Brown, junior, 6-1, 160

WR: Landon Neugebauer, junior, 6-0, 160

TE: Tyler Larson, junior, 6-2, 190

TE: Ethan Jones, senior, 6-0, 180

LT: Mitch Morgan, senior, 6-5, 200

LG: Preston Skinner, senior, 185

C: Andrew Getty, senior, 6-0, 220

RG: Chandler Nelson, junior, 6-3, 225

RT: Dylanger Pierson, senior, 6-4, 265

Defense

DL: Robert McCardle, junior, 6-0, 240

DL: Riley Heck, junior, 5-9, 215

DL: Chase Klingaman, senior, 6-1, 240

LB: Mitch Johnson, junior, 6-1, 185

LB: Micah Hettinger, senior, 5-9, 185

LB: Jon Jamison, senior, 6-2, 175

LB: Tyler Larson, junior, 6-2, 180

DB: Chase Harms, senior, 5-10, 155

DB: Matt Larson, junior, 5-11,165

DB: Alex Herrick, senior, 5-11, 165

DB: Keenan Shannon, senior, 5-11, 165

Special Teams

K: Hakon Gustafson Gimrer, senior, 5-11, 140

P: Nathan Wahlen, senior, 6-1, 150

Yankton projected starters

Position: Name, year, height, weight

QB: Mason Strahl, junior, 6-0, 155

RB: Eric Williams, senior, 5-9, 150

RB: Tanner Termansen, senior, 6-0, 160

RB: Levi Davis, junior, 5-10, 170

FB: Jordan Lightner, junior, 5-10, 220

TE: Evan Greeneway, junior, 6-7, 215

TE: J.J. Hejna, senior, 6-4, 200

TE: Matt Fitzgerald, junior, 6-4, 185

LT: Justin Meyers, senior, 6-4, 275

LG: Nick LaFave, junior 5-10, 235

C: Landon Binder, sophomore, 6-0, 250

RG: Alex Dangler, senior, 6-0, 215

RG: Ty Hauger, senior, 5-10, 210

RT: Steven McKee, senior, 6-1, 240

Defense

DL: Steven McKee, senior, 6-1, 240

DL: Justin Meyers, senior, 6-4, 275

DL: Ty Hauger, senior, 6-1, 240

DL: Bradey Sorenson, sophomore, 6-1, 200

DL: Tim Cross, junior, 6-0, 210

LB: Matt Fitzgerald, junior, 6-4, 185

LB: Cody Hanzlik, senior, 5-8, 180

LB: Levi Davis, junior, 5-10, 170

DB: Parker Kuchta, junior, 6-0, 150

DB: Ryan Sternhagen, junior, 6-0, 165

DB: J.J. Hejna, senior 6-4, 200

DB: Tanner Termansen, senior, 6-0, 160

DB: Eric Williams, senior, 5-9, 150

Special Teams

K: Lane Sawatzke, senior, 6-2, 175

P: Tanner Termansen, senior, 6-0, 165

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Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.
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