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Blocked punt in fourth lifts Kernels over Harrisburg

Landon Neugebauer runs the football in the first quarter of Mitchell High School’s game against Harrisburg Friday night in Mitchell. The Kernels won the game 21-14. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

After a 47-minute stalemate, Mitchell topped Harrisburg 21-14 on a blocked punt by Mitch Morgan with 30 seconds remaining in the Kernels’ home opener. The Kernels (2-0) and Tigers (1-1) fought back and forth, as both teams had to overcome mistakes and, at times, sloppy play on Friday night at Joe Quintal Field.

Harrisburg, which had never played Mitchell, controlled the ball with the run most of the night. It was on special teams that the Tigers showed their youth.

After a quick three-and-out late in the game, Harrisburg set up to punt, hoping to run out the clock and send the game into overtime. Once the snap was fumbled, Mitchell senior lineman Mitch Morgan jumped and swatted the attempted kick back into the end zone.

“It wasn’t really meant to be a block,” Morgan said. “I saw him fumble it and thought, ‘Just go for it.’ ”

Once the ball finally was deflected and dropped in the end zone, junior Jacob Cersosimo dove on it for the game-winning score that came with 30 seconds left in the game.

“The ball looked big and all I could think of was, ‘Just jump on it,’ ” Cersosimo said.

Alex Herrick sealed the win for the Kernels with an interception with three seconds remaining.

“When we are not getting it done offensively or defensively, we just have to play team football,” Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “We had to fight through a lot of adversity all night.”

Mitchell capitalized on Harrisburg special teams blunders all night. The Kernels started the scoring in the first quarter on a 1-yard sneak by sophomore quarterback Kanin Nelson. The touchdown followed the first bad snap by the Tigers’ punting team, which resulted Mitchell starting their drive on the Harrisburg 44-yard line.

The Kernels took a 14-0 lead on another Harrisburg special teams blunder. The Kernels attempted a long field goal that fell well short, but a Tigers player touched the ball and lost control of it, giving the home team the ball on the six-yard line. One play later, Mitch Johnson took the handoff and put the Kernels up 14-0 with 8:42 remaining in the second quarter.

Despite the early lead, the Kernels managed 155 total yards of offense on the night.

“We may not be the most talented team, but that belief will get us through adversity like tonight,” VanOverschelde said.

Harrisburg fought back on the strength of its talented running attack. Junior Jonathan Kabambi shredded the Mitchell defense, tallying 160 yards on 25 carries. The Tigers also got 44 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries from Christian Trainor to tie the game heading into the half at 14.

“I was very pleased with our offense tonight, but we are making too many mistakes right now, which young teams do,” Harrisburg head coach Brandon White said, noting that his team returned no starters on offense from a year ago.

In his second start for the Kernels, Nelson struggled to get the passing game rolling, going 7-for-18 with 99 yards through the air. Leading the Mitchell running game was Landon Neugebauer with 30 yards on four carries.

Mitchell’s Beau Brown was able to get loose at times in the Tigers’ secondary, hauling in four catches for 76 yards, including a 34-yard reception to set up Nelson’s early score.

Matt Larson led the Kernels with 18 tackles, while Herrick added 11.

Next up for the Kernels is a road matchup with Pierre at 7 p.m. Friday.

HARRISBURG (1-1) 0 14 0 0-14

MITCHELL (2-0) 7 7 0 7-21

First Quarter

M: Kanin Nelson 1-yard run (Hakon Gustafson Gimrer kick) 3:39

Second Quarter

M: Mitch Johnson 6-yard run (Gimrer kick) 8:42

H: Christian Trainor 9-yard run (Kick good) 5:38

H: Trainor 1-yard run (Kick good) 0:24

Fourth Quarter

M: Jacob Cersosimo recovered blocked punt (Gimrer kick) 0:30

Individual stats

RUSHING: Mitchell: Neuebauer 4-30, Mitch Johnson 14-16, Kanin Nelson 11-10; Harrisburg: Jonathan Kabambi 25-160, Christian Trainor 12-44, Adam Holmstrom 5-22, Matt Hudson 4-6

PASSING: Mitchell: Kanin Nelson 7-18-0-99, Matt Larson 0-1; Harrisburg: Matt Hudson 10-32-11-86

RECEIVING: Mitchell: Beau Brown 4-76, Neugebauer 3-23; Harrisburg: Cody Beerkhof 4-30, Holmstrom 2-25, Devon Thingles 1-10, Drew Andela 1-9, Trainor 1-8, Kabambi 1-4.

DEFENSIVE: Mitchell: Matt Larson 18 tackles, fumble recovery, three passes defended; Alex Herrick 11 tackles, one interception.