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Kernels look to hold off Bobcats as 11AA playoff picture looms

Senior Nick Hartman (22) and sophomore Myles Szabo (35) block each other during a drill at Mitchell football practice Wednesday afternoon at the practice field south of Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Brooke Cersosimo/Republic)

With three games to play in the regular season, Mitchell football coach Kent VanOverschelde knows this week’s game against Brookings is important.

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“Our season starts right now,” said VanOverschelde, whose team hosts the Bobcats at 7 p.m. Friday at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. “All these games are very important in the ESD race and seeding for the postseason.”

Postseason seeding is calculated on a power-point scale in which Class 11AA teams earn points for wins and losses. The Kernels (3-2) are in second place in Class 11AA with 44.8 power points, which is the average of power points earned divided by the number of games played. Pierre (5-0) is first with 51 points, Watertown (2-3) is third with 42, Yankton (3-3) is fourth with 41 and Brookings (2-4) rounds out the top five with 37.167.

It’s been three weeks since Mitchell has faced a Class 11AA opponent, and senior defensive back Alex Herrick said the team has worked hard to prepare for these final weeks of the regular season.

“We got a lot done over the bye week and we’re learning to improve still,” said Herrick, who is second on the team in tackles with 36 and also has an interception. “We just have to communicate and close in for tackles, and hopefully we can beat Brookings this week.”

Both teams have struggled offensively at times. The Kernels average 19.2 points per game and the Bobcats average 16.6.

In five starts, Mitchell quarterback Kanin Nelson has completed 32 of 80 passes for a completion rate of 40 percent. He has 356 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Nelson’s top target this season has been junior Beau Brown, who is still out with concussion-like symptoms. Brown played in the first three games, hauling in nine receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown.

The team’s next leading receiver is senior Ethan Jones, with eight receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown.

On the ground, junior running back Mitch Johnson leads the Kernels with 303 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries, averaging 3.74 yards per carry.

“We haven’t made a lot of changes offensively, but we’re just trying to do better at what we believe will work,” VanOverschelde said.

Brookings has started two players at quarterback. Junior Carter Gordon started the first four games, and junior Tyler Hanson has started the last two. Hanson is 26-for-46 for a completion rate of 56.5 percent and has 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Gordon has completed 20 of 51 passes for a 39.2 percent completion rate, with 229 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Brookings coach Lee Schmidt said Hanson will start this week.

“We’re still looking for a level of consistency, and it’s one position that we don’t have set in stone,” Schmidt said, adding his team is young with just nine seniors on the roster. “If we struggle there again, Carter could get some opportunities.”

Senior Tyler Madler leads the Bobcat receiving corps with 15 catches for 223 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore Gerald Maxwell is Brookings’ top rusher with 306 yards and four touchdowns on 63 carries.

“We know Brookings is a tremendous opponent, though their record may not show it,” VanOverschelde said.

Defensively, the Kernels are led by junior Matt Larson, who has 50 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Mitchell’s defense has recovered seven fumbles and intercepted five passes this year.

Brookings is led defensively by senior linebacker Cody Shepardson.

VanOvershelde said the key to the game will be eliminating mistakes and creating turnovers.

“I think it’s a great matchup and probably one of the best ones in the state this week as far as teams that are in certain situations goes,” he said. “We’ve got to play with confidence and play together.”

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.