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Fumble woes hurting Kernels: Mitchell has 15 turnovers this season

Mitchell's Kiel Nelson (3) takes the snap from Zach Mohr (55) during a game against Douglas on Sept. 22 at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Holding onto the ball in practice is a major focus for the Mitchell High School football team every week.

But for the second time this season, Mitchell was burned by fumbling the ball away and costly turnovers. Those giveaways hampered the Kernels' chances against Pierre in a 14-7 home loss on Friday, the second time this season MHS has had three lost fumbles. The other came in a 45-7 loss to Sioux Falls Washington Sept. 15 in Mitchell.

The correlation between fumbles and Mitchell losses was clear in both games and needs to be cleaned up, MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said.

"It's just mismanagement of the football," VanOverschelde said. "We have to be concerned about ball security. We have to tighten things up and secure the ball."

Through seven games this season, the Kernels have fumbled the ball 16 times, losing 13 of those fumbles. Mitchell also has two interceptions on the season for a total of 15 turnovers for an average of more than two turnovers per game.

VanOverschelde said a majority of Mitchell's fumbles have been self-inflicted rather than forced by opponents.

"We knew we were our own worst enemy," VanOverschelde said after Friday's loss. "We turned the ball over three times at times when we had things going (in the right direction)."

In the past five games, the Kernels have had at least two fumbles. They have had four games with three fumbles. For comparison, last year's state championship team committed just 13 turnovers, only losing six fumbles, in 12 games.

The fumbles have come in various ways — bad snap exchanges between the center and quarterback, quarterback dropping the ball and running back losing control after the handoff.

"We have to eliminate that and get rid of that," said quarterback Kiel Nelson, who has eight lost fumbles this season. "We just have to get past them. I have to be mentally more prepared."

Two weeks ago, VanOverschelde switched Carter Max from guard to the team's starting center, moving Zach Mohr, who started the first five games at center, to tight end. Nelson said the change in center hasn't been an issue with the number of fumbles.

"We have to eliminate turnovers, that's going to be a key this week," VanOverschelde said. "We can't afford to have turnovers because that limits our offense."

Mitchell (5-2), ranked No. 2 in Class 11AA and also second in seed points in the class, plays an important game at No. 3 Harrisburg at 7 p.m. Friday.