Kernels football team falls 22-14 in openerThe Mitchell High School football team lost to Watertown 22-14 in the first game of the season Saturday night in Watertown.
By: By ROGER MERRIAM, Watertown Public Opinion
WATERTOWN — It took only one game in 2012 for Watertown High School’s football team to equal its win total from last season, knocking off Mitchell Saturday night.
Junior running back Shay Bratland ran for 97 yards and scored two touchdowns to lift the Arrows to a season-opening 22-14 Eastern South Dakota Conference victory over the Kernels at Watertown Stadium. The game marked the debut of new Arrow head coach Steve Svendsen.
The Arrows, facing a daunting four-week stretch that includes the top three rated teams in Class 11AA, didn’t get any bonuses for style points by surviving a season-opener filled with mental mis-takes, penalties and missed opportunities by both teams.
Watertown, a junior-laden squad with only two starters back from a team that went 1-8 last season, and Mitchell, which lost a number of key standouts off a squad that went 8-3 and battled for the conference title last fall, weren’t expected to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
The Arrows committed 11 penalties and two turnovers, had a touchdown pass called back because of a penalty and watched another drive stall near Mitchell’s 10-yard line.
The Kernels outgained the Arrows 244-201 in total yards and made only four penalties, but were undone by five turnovers including four lost fumbles, one deep in Watertown territory and another that came just short of the end zone on a long running play.
“No doubt the turnovers were big, especially the four we had in the first half,” Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “Every time we got some momentum going, we’d turn it over.”
The biggest momentum switch of the game came in the first quarter. Mitchell’s Gramm Johnson intercepted a pass by Watertown junior quarterback Trevor Jutting and returned it 36 yards to the Arrows’ 5-yard line. Mitch Johnson, part of a promising sophomore running tandem along with Landon Neugebauer, covered the final five yards on two running plays to give the Kernels a 7-0 lead.
But the Arrows responded quickly when Bratland took the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for the game-tying touchdown. The Arrows never trailed again.
“From our standpoint, the biggest mistake we made was allowing them to score after we scored in the first quarter,” VanOverschelde said. “That was a big momentum change and it impacted the whole first half.”
After losing a fumble and having a 58-yard TD pass called back because a penalty on their first two offensive possessions of the second quarter, Jutting connected with 6-foot-3 junior receiver Jess Poppen on a 31-yard scoring pass with 1:42 left in the first half.
Poppen added a 31-yard field goal in the final two minutes of the third quarter and Bratland provided what turned out to be the game-winner with a 19-yard TD scamper early in the fourth quarter.
The Arrows played better as the game went on, controlling the action for much of the second and third quarters.
Mitchell didn’t go away easily. The Kernels used hook-and-ladder pass plays to move into scoring position twice in the final period. The first drive ended with a fumble that was recovered by Watertown’s Jamison Spiering in the end zone. The second ended with Neugebauer’s 2-yard TD plunge with 1:52 remaining.
The Arrows held on when Mark DeSpiegler recovered the onside kick and they prevented Mitchell from getting one last chance when Jutting rumbled 3 yards on a fourth-down quarterback sneak in the final minute.
“Sometimes it looked a little ugly, but I think part of it was the just the inexperience we have as a football team and Mitchell has the same thing,” Svendsen said. “I can’t stress it enough, we just need to be patient with our football team. A lot of the things we saw tonight were little execution things. Those are fixable and I think we’re going to get better every week.”
Bratland headed the offensive effort for the Arrows, who took turns with junior quarterbacks Jutting and Gabriel at the helm of the offense. Jutting threw for 49 yards and also had an interception on defense. Gabriel passed for 57. Poppen led the receiving corps with four grabs for 51 yards.
VanOverschelde also believes his team will get better as the season progresses, and sophomores Neugebauer, who rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries, and Johnson, who added 77 yards on 18 attempts, could certainly lead the charge.
“We’ll live to play another day. It’s about progressing and moving forward,” he said. “Eve-rybody’s got a road ahead of them. We need to make some of those corrections and I think we’re going to get better from it.”