Defending champion SFW hosts Mitchell tonightMitchell is in the quarterfinals of the Class 11AA football playoffs for the first time since 2006.
By: Travis Mester, The Daily Republic
Mitchell is in the quarterfinals of the Class 11AA football playoffs for the first time since 2006.
To earn a semifinal spot, the Kernels will have to chop down the two-time defending state champions.
Fifth-seeded Mitchell (8-2) faces fourth-seeded Sioux Falls Washington (7-2) in a game scheduled for 8 p.m. today at Howard Wood Stadium in Sioux Falls. The game follows two other quarterfinals, scheduled for 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., and will begin 30 minutes following the 5 p.m. game between Sioux Falls Roosevelt and Brandon Valley.
“They’re a football team with great tradition and great success in the recent postseason,” fifth-year Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said of Washington. “That has a big impact on everybody in their program. I’m sure all their kids want to continue to build that legacy.”
Washington beat then-top-ranked Roosevelt 34-29 in its final regular season game to earn a first-round bye. The Warriors’ two losses came back-to-back earlier this season against Sioux Falls Lincoln (37-36 on Sept. 3) and Sioux Falls O’Gorman 24-7 on Sept. 10).
But now it is the postseason, a place Washington has not lost since a 27-20 defeat to Lincoln in the 2008 title game. And the Warriors have won six straight games entering tonight’s matchup.
“You have to have a little luck, you have to be playing good football and your kids have to believe in your program,” Washington’s seventh-year head coach Brian Hermanson said of his program’s recent dominance. “Luckily, we’ve had all three of those things.”
The Warriors have been a well-balanced offensive machine this year. They average 161.4 yards per game through the air with quarterback John Hander doing much of the passing. DaVonte ClayTate has led a rushing attack that has gained 185.9 yards per contest.
ClayTate has rushed for 954 yards (104.0 per game) and 12 touchdowns.
The Warriors also have been quick starters this season. They have outscored their opponents 120-0 in the first quarter of their nine games and 239-47 in the first halves.
“One thing I saw in the game against Roosevelt was that Washington came out ready to play fast and forced Roosevelt to play some catch up,” VanOverschelde said. “We need to be ready to play football from the start of the game.”
Washington has outscored its opponents 36.2-14.7 per game this season. Mitchell is averaging 35.5 points per game this season.
It has been led by Jason Greenway’s 1,407 yards rushing and 16 total touchdowns (10 rushing, five returns and one receiving). Brent Havlik has thrown for 930 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.
The Kernels will hope to draw some assurance from their lone matchup with a Sioux Falls school earlier this season — the Kernels upset Lincoln 50-49 on Oct. 7 at Joe Quintal Field.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” said senior defensive tackle Dalton Wangerin, who has 40 total tackles this season. “We know they’re not just some Sioux Falls school and we’re going to lose automatically. We know we can beat them.”
Hermanson said he saw the Kernels in person for their first-round victory over Aberdeen Central. Mitchell won that game 42-14 for its first playoff victory in five years.
“They’re a very talented team with a lot of speed,” Hermanson said of Mitchell. “Another thing I noticed was that they really seem to like each other out there. They play really hard for one another and they’re not afraid to take chances.”
The Kernels led the Aberdeen game by just one score midway through the third quarter last week. They have been a team that has played to the height of their competition all season. Mitchell will need to do that for four quarters to get their 22 seniors at least one more game after tonight.
“Our football team is a team that raises their level when they hit the football field,” VanOverschelde said. “Against Aberdeen Central, I thought in the second quarter we raised our level of play.
“We can’t wait until the second or third quarter to raise our level of play this week.”
Mitchell’s last appearance in the quarterfinals resulted in a 25-0 loss to Brandon Valley in 2006.
If Mitchell advances tonight, it will face the winner of the Lincoln versus Brookings quarterfinal, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. today at Howard Wood Stadium. The semifinal round is scheduled for Saturday with the higher seed hosting each game.