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McCUTCHEON: MHS football team has plenty to play for

This year’s Class 11AA football season is seven weeks old and nothing has been decided in terms of the playoffs.

The Mitchell Kernels (3-3) are sitting in the middle of the 10-team 11AA class in which the top eight teams earn berths to the playoffs. For the final two weeks of the year, they will be fighting for playoff positioning.

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If the playoffs were to start today, Pierre would be the top seed and would host Douglas. Second-seeded Yankton would welcome No. 7 Huron, No. 3 Watertown would host No. 6 Harrisburg and No. 4 Mitchell would play No. 5 Brookings at Joe Quintal Field. Last week, Brookings escaped Mitchell with a 21-18 win.

“Every game going forward is going to be important for the seeding,” Mitchell coach Kent VanOverschelde said at practice Wednesday.

The Kernels’ power point average sits at 43.500 after six games with two games left. Mitchell could finish the regular season between second and sixth in 11AA. The Kernels still have games to play against Watertown and Huron. The Kernels travel to play Watertown at 7 tonight and host school-rival Huron on Oct. 24.

Power points in 11AA are decided by wins and losses. Teams in 11AA get 45 points for a win over a school in the same class or higher and 40 points are awarded for a win over a school in a lower class. A loss to a school in the same or higher class gives 25 points and a loss against a lower school yields 20 points. Each team receives three bonus points for each of their opponent’s wins during the season, meaning a difficult schedule against strong teams still boosts power point totals.

If Mitchell were to win its final two games, it is possible the Kernels could jump all the way to the second seed for the playoffs. This is important because Mitchell’s first two playoff games would then be at home and not on the road in dangerous, away-game territory.

Losing their final two games could drop the Kernels as far down as sixth in the playoff seeding, depending on how Harrisburg and Huron finish the final two weeks.

Finishing fifth or lower in the standings means starting the playoffs on the road and any additional playoff games would likely be played away from Mitchell.

If the Kernels split their final two regular-season games, there will be a first-round playoff game in Mitchell, likely against Brookings.

“We knew it was going to be even across the board,” VanOverschelde said of Class 11AA. “The thing that makes double-A football so special is that anybody can string together three games and win a championship.”

After an opening-season loss to Mitchell, the Yankton Bucks have surged through the middle portion of the season and knocked off previously undefeated Pierre last week. Yankton closes its regular season Friday on the road against Harrisburg. Yankton needs to lose to Harrisburg for Mitchell to reach the No. 2 seed.

“The new format keeps a lot of teams involved,” Yankton coach Arlin Likness said. “There are several communities that think they have a shot.”

Prior to the loss against Yankton, Pierre made the class look like a one-team race with wins over Mitchell, Watertown and Huron. Pierre also holds road wins over Class 11AAA teams Rapid City Central and Sioux Falls O’Gorman.

Harrisburg is another team fighting for playoff positioning in 11AA, as games against Yankton and Brandon Valley provide a chance to move up.

No team may have more to say in the final standings in 11AA than Watertown. The Arrows have games remaining against Mitchell and Brookings. The Kernels and Bobcats sit just behind Watertown in the standings.

“The Watertown game is not only going to be significant for our situation, but will impact several other teams as well,” VanOverschelde said.

There is sure to be continued shakeup in the standings for the remainder of the regular season. In a class where any team can beat anyone, the playoff should be exciting for all those involved.

“The way this is panning out, with the exception of Pierre, it is going to be whoever can win that final game for the rest of us,” Brookings coach Lee Schmidt said.

The following is the standings for the 10-team Class 11AA teams heading into play tonight. There are two games left in the regular season. The teams are listed with power points, record and remaining regular-season games.

1. Pierre: 49.667; 5-1; vs. Brandon Valley, vs. Aberdeen Central.

2. Yankton: 44.571; 4-3; at Harrisburg.

3. Watertown: 44.500; 3-3; vs. Mitchell, at Brookings.

4. Mitchell: 43.500; 3-3; at Watertown, vs. Huron.

5. Brookings: 40.857; 3-4; bye week, vs. Watertown.

6. Harrisburg: 39.667; 2-4; vs. Yankton, at Brandon Valley.

7. Huron: 39.667; 2-4; at Aberdeen Central, at Mitchell.

8. Douglas: 36.667; 2-4; at Spearfish, vs. Pine Ridge.

9. Sturgis Brown: 34.000; 2-5; at St. Thomas More.

10. Spearfish: 28.833; 0-6; vs. Hot Springs, vs. Douglas.