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Luke Mauer, left, and Ethan Jones, right, participate in a tackling drill Wednesday at the Mitchell High School football team’s practice. (Brooke Cersosimo/Republic

No. 2 Mitchell hoping for strong offensive game to upset Pierre

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sports Mitchell,South Dakota 57301 http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/091313.S.DR_.MITCHELLPIERREPREVIEW.jpg?itok=ROJpaM8T
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No. 2 Mitchell hoping for strong offensive game to upset Pierre
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Mitchell football coach Kent VanOverschelde knows his offense has to get going if it wants to knock off top-ranked Pierre tonight.

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If the Kernels’ offense makes a charge at the end zone, it needs help from its offensive line — a spot VanOverschelde says needs improving.

“We have to make sure that we stay on our blocks and keep our heads in the game,” senior offensive lineman Dylanger Pierson said. “We’ve seen them on film and they have a good defensive line. But if we keep our heads up and stay on them, we’ll keep their line down and give our running backs and quarterbacks time.”

The game between Class AA’s top two teams in the state is set to begin at 7 p.m. today in Pierre.

In Mitchell’s two wins, it scored 48 points but earned four touchdowns after big plays on defense or special teams. The Kernels (2-0) are led offensively by sophomore quarterback Kanin Nelson. Nelson has completed 12 of 27 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns and has rushed for 75 yards on 24 carries. Running back Mitch Johnson has 37 carries for 78 yards and three touchdowns.

VanOverschelde said his defense has had solid showings thus far but the offense must execute. Junior defensive back Matt Larson leads Mitchell defensively with 31 tackles this season.

“We haven’t given up any big plays defensively so far, and if you can do that and contain good football teams, you’re going to put yourself in a good situation,” VanOverschelde said, adding the defense also has a tall order ahead of it. “Both (Pierre’s) offensive and defensive lines are really solid, but I think their quarterback is the catalyst to their offense.”\

Alexander Gray — Pierre’s three-year starting quarterback — has scored seven touchdowns this season — four of which were through the air. In two games, Gray has thrown for 450 yards and rushed for 204.

“(Gray) is a good leader for us and makes good decisions,” Pierre coach Jayson Poppinga, whose team is 2-0. “His experience and decision making is resulting in success for us so far. ... We’re going to try to get our best kids the ball, and (Gray) does a good job of doing that.”

Seniors Austin Christopherson, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver, and Garret Pochop, a 5-foot-10 wide receiver, are Gray’s go-to guys. Both receivers have racked up 180 yards on the season.

Poppinga, a first-year head coach for Pierre, said his team must control the line of scrimmage and not make any major mistakes because Mitchell has capitalized on turnovers in previous weeks.

“Mitchell has kind of come out as the dark horse this year,” he said. “They show up to play every Friday night and we’re going to have to play our best game this week.”

VanOverschelde said the new classification system allows these matchups to be highly anticipated games throughout the state.

“It puts new significance on games that were in the past just conference games,” he said. “Part of the overall mission of establishing the new class was to create this type of excitement, and we’re excited to be a part of it.”

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

Last meeting: Pierre defeated Mitchell 34-6 on Sept. 21, 2012, at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell.

Coaches: Mitchell’s Kent VanOverschelde, seventh year; Pierre’s Jayson Poppinga, first year

Forecast: 78 degrees and clear at kickoff with a south, southeast wind at 13 mph.

Game notes: This is Mitchell’s third Eastern South Dakota Conference game. The Kernels topped Yankton for the first time since 1987 in the first game of the season and edged Harrisburg Sept. 6 after Mitch Morgan blocked a punt late in the fourth quarter. … Pierre has one conference win over Watertown and defeated Rapid City Central last week. …This is Pierre’s first home game of the season and Mitchell’s second game on the road.

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: Nate Wahlen, senior, 6-2, 165

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, 6-2, 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: Preston Skinner, senior, 6-2, 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: Nate Wahlen, senior, 6-0, 170

Special Teams

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

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

Pierre projected starters

Position: Name, year, height, weight

QB: Alexander Gray, senior, 5-10, 180

RB: Jace Jerome, junior, 5-8, 175

RB: Ethan Case, senior, 5-10, 170

WR: Garret Pochop, senior, 5-10, 155

WR: Austin Christopherson, senior, 6-10, 180

T: Dylan Bennett, senior, 6-3, 310

G: Kyle Veitz, senior, 6-0, 225

C: Graham Protexter, senior, 6-3, 215

G: Ben Leidholt, senior, 5-10, 195

T: Brandon Swenson, senior, 6-1, 250

Defense

DL: Brandon Swenson, senior, 6-1, 250

DL: Kyle Veitz, senior, 6-0, 225

DL: Graham Protexter, senior, 6-3, 215

DL: Shay Reinke, senior, 6-1, 170

LB: Jace Jerome, junior, 5-8, 175

LB: Ben Leidholt, senior, 5-10, 195

LB: Matt Blaseg, senior, 6-0, 175

DB: Connor Ryan, junior, 5-10, 160

DB: Austin Christopherson, senior, 6-10, 180

DB: Nate Blaseg, senior, 5-10, 160

DB: Garret Pochop, senior, 5-10, 155

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