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Bucks end Kernels' season in quarterfinal-round of playoffs

Mitchell junior Chandler Nelson moves around Yankton junior Nick LaFave, right, to apply pressure on junior quarterback Mason Strahl, left, in Class 11AA playoff football action Thursday night in Yankton. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

YANKTON — The Mitchell Kernel football season came to an end with a fifth straight loss, falling 48-12 to No. 3 Yankton in the first round of the Class 11AA playoffs Thursday in Yankton.

The Mitchell offense never got going against an aggressive Bucks defense and big plays on special teams hurt the No. 6 Kernels early in the game.

The Yankton win comes after the Kernels beat the Bucks 27-21 in the opening game of the regular season Aug. 31 in Yankton.

“The big difference tonight was our inability to run the football and our inability to tackle,” Mitchell coach Kent VanOverschelde said after the loss. “Yankton has gotten better and had some momentum coming off some late-season success.”

The Bucks took the lead early after blocking a punt to set up their offense on the Mitchell 8-yard line.

“That play definitely deflated us, and it clearly took some of the momentum out,” VanOverschelde said.

Jordan Lightner took the ball in on a 3-yard run two plays later to give Yankton a 7-0 lead. The Bucks went ahead by two scores after quarterback Mason Strahl hit Reid Sawatzke for a 13-yard touchdown pass.

Mitchell got on the board with a 26-yard field goal from senior Hakon Gustafson Giaever late in the first quarter after Kernel sophomore quarterback Kanin Nelson hit senior Nate Wahlen for a 29-yard gain to set Mitchell up inside the 5-yard line.

But Yankton answered quickly. The Bucks recovered a fumbled punt inside the Mitchell’s 10-yard line and Strahl found wide receiver J.J. Hejna on the ensuing drive for an 8-yard score to take a 21-3 lead.

“Field position was a big factor for us tonight,” Yankton coach Arlin Likness said. “Our kids adjusted pretty well after the last time we played Mitchell.”

The Bucks added another touchdown in the second quarter on an 8-yard run from Lightner and took a 28-6 lead into the locker room at the half.

Yankton sealed the win with a 3-yard run from Strahl in the third quarter and Lee Rose picked off a Mitchell pass and took it back for a score in the fourth.

Mitchell got into the end zone with 6:26 left in the fourth quarter when Nelson found senior tight end Ethan Jones for a 20-yard touchdown, but Yankton was able to run the clock out for the win.

Strahl led the way for Yankton with three touchdowns, with two through the air and one on the ground. Strahl finished with 332 yards on 18-of-29 passing and one interception. Hejna had seven catches for 175 yards, giving him 1,100 yards for the season.

The Bucks were able to spread the Kernel defense out with multiple receivers and Yankton took advantage with big plays.

On offense, the Kernels only managed 30 yards rushing on 24 carries. The early lead for Yankton and lack of a running game forced Nelson to put the ball in the air most of the night. He threw 35 times in the loss, completing 15 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown.

Junior Landon Neugebauer led the Kernel receiving corps with four catches for 78 yards, while Wahlen added three catches for 69 yards and Jones contributed three receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown.

The Mitchell defense was led by senior Alex Herrick with 13 tackles, while Matt Larson added 11 tackles and an interception in the loss. Senior Preston Skinner and sophomore Austin Getty contributed 10 and nine tackles, respectively.

“It was emotional,” Skinner said. “It’s the last game for the seniors. It’s the last time you get to put on the pads and you can’t take it back.”

Yankton (5-4) moves on to play No. 2 Watertown in the semifinal round of the Class 11AA state playoffs Nov. 8 in Watertown, while Mitchell ends its season with a record of 3-6.

Mitchell 3 3 0 6 12

Yankton 14 14 7 13 48

First Quarter

Y: Jordan Lightner 3 run (Lane Sawatzke kick good)

Y: Mason Strahl 13 pass to Reid Sawatzke (Lane Sawatzke kick good)

M: Hakon Gustafson Giaever 26 field goal

Second Quarter

Y: Strahl 8 pass to J.J.Hejna (Lane Sawatzke kick good)

Y: Lightner 8 run (Lane Sawatzke kick good)

M: Giaever 19 field goal

Third Quarter

Y: Strahl 3 run (Lane Sawatzke kick good)

Fourth Quarter

M: Kanin Nelson 20 pass to Ethan Jones (kick failed)

Y: Tanner Frick 10 run (Lane Sawatzke kick good)

Y: Lee Rose interception return (kick failed)

RUSHING: Mitchell: Kanin Nelson 14-23; Mitch Johnson 8-7; Yankton: Jordan Lightner 6-93; Tanner Frick 9-45.

PASSING: Mitchell: Nelson 15-35-2-217; Yankton: Mason Strahl 18-29-1-332.

RECEIVING: Mitchell: Landon Neugebauer 4-78; Nate Wahlen 3-69; Ethan Jones 3-41; Matt Larson 2-25; Johnson 2-6; Yankton: J.J. Hejna 7-175; Brady Hale 4-106.

DEFENSIVE LEADERS: Mitchell: Alex Herrick 13 tackles; Larson 11 tackles, one INT; Preston Skinner 10 tackles; Austin Getty nine tackles.