MESTER: Kernels must continue dominating special teams if they want to advance to semifinalsMitchell does not have to look beyond its biggest victory of the season to understand the importance of special teams.
By: Travis Mester, The Daily Republic
Mitchell does not have to look beyond its biggest victory of the season to understand the importance of special teams.
In the final two-plus minutes of the Kernels 50-49 season-defining victory over Sioux Falls Lincoln on Oct. 7 at Joe Quintal Field, Mitchell returned a kick for a touchdown, recovered an onside kick and converted the game-winning extra point.
It would be a lot to ask for anything like that to happen again when Mitchell travels to Sioux Falls tonight. The Kernels face Washington in a Class 11AA quarterfinal at 8 p.m. at Howard Wood Stadium.
But it will be a near necessity for Mitchell to dominate the special teams department if it expects to have a chance tonight.
“We all know that special teams are huge,” Mitchell senior Dalton Wangerin said. “We don’t have to have our offense on the field to score.”
That has been the case oftentimes this fall.
Mitchell (8-2) has eight returns for touchdowns in two games this season. Jason Greenway has five combined returns between punt and kickoffs. Justin Greenway has taken a kick and a punt back for a touchdown and Eric Bortnem has a kickoff return for a score.
“They have a lot of weapons on their special teams,” Washington coach Brian Hermanson said. “Hopefully, we’ll get our people where we need to be and make the tackles. When the Greenway boys create space, they become very elusive.”
Elsewhere on the Kernels’ special teams, senior Jade Miller has become nearly automatic on extra point attempts. Mitchell coach Kent VanOverschelde said Miller is 37 for 41 on PATs this season and also has hit two field goals. Miller replaced an injured Justin Greenway in the middle of last season as the Kernels’ kickoff specialist and extra-point kicker. He has kicked five touchbacks on kickoffs this season and it was Miller’s extra point that provided the final difference in the victory over Lincoln.
“Every point is important,” Miller said after Saturday’s practice. “It could come down to that one little difference, just like that game against Lincoln did.”
Miller, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver on Mitchell’s offense, is tied for the team lead with 15 catches and a team-high 235 yards this season.
“Jade has a lot of fun playing football,” Mitchell coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “To see him embrace the kicking position and doing as well as he has is really great. It’s been a big part of our success and it’s also nice to see guys understand their roles and completing it to the best of their ability.”
Washington has allowed an average of 11.5 yards per kick return this season and 12.0 yards per punt return. The Warriors’ Alex Aesoph also has been a weapon in the kicking game. He is 41-of-42 on extra points and 3-of-6 on field goals.
Washington (7-2) has five returns for touchdowns in its nine games this fall. Chris Parker has returned two kicks for touchdowns, while ClayTate and Zach Fuller each have taken one back for a score.
The Kernels will need at least a few big plays in the special teams department to win tonight. If they get a return for touchdown, I give them better than a puncher’s chance to be headed back to Sioux Falls next week as part of 11AA’s final four teams standing.