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Kernels open up against champs

If there ever truly is a good time to meet powerhouse Sioux Falls O'Gorman, Mitchell High head football coach Russ Bailey figures the first game of the season probably is better than most.

If there ever truly is a good time to meet powerhouse Sioux Falls O'Gorman, Mitchell High head football coach Russ Bailey figures the first game of the season probably is better than most.

With the Knights riding a 26-game win streak, it's hard telling if Bailey's theory holds any water, but the eighth-year MHS head man will get an answer one way or another when the Kernels open their 2006 season tonight at 7 p.m. at Joe Quintal Field against the defending Class 11AA champion.

"I think that's a good point," said O'Gorman head coach Steve Kueter, who is entering his 29th season at the school. "Everyone is at the same place in the playbook. It's hard to get real fancy early -- not that we ever do."

Bailey said he expects a more vanilla approach offensively tonight from the Knights than what even they are accustomed to. Kueter said this year's offensive line "might be our best offensive line we've had since I've been here," and Bailey expects the Knights to take full advantage of that skill up front, grinding it out with an array of isolation plays and dives up the middle.

"I think it's going to be a lot of straightforward football out of those guys until they get their timing down," said Bailey, whose team went 2-8 overall a season ago. "That's probably another bonus about playing them early.

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"I think they're going to come right after us. They're going to look at our size on the defensive line and offensive line and think they're going to be able to handle us."

The Kernels will start senior Tyler Hill at quarterback for the opener, who will be joined in the skill positions by running back Brent Peterson (5-foot-11, 160 pounds), fullback Dusty Warnke (5-7, 141), tight end Mike Larson (6-2, 179) and a "wide receiver by committee" core of Justin Brown (5-11, 162), Cade Hearnen (5-10, 148), Kyle Ussery (5-11, 160), Jesse Hanssen (6-0, 159), Tanner Grove (6-2, 155) and Stephen Peschong (6-4, 180).

"We're pretty good when it comes to our skill positions," Bailey said. "Scheme-wise and ability-wise, we've got some great skill positions. We're going to have to get the ball in their hands in situations where they can go one-on-one with someone in the secondary. Hopefully we can create mismatches."

Early on, at least, the most glaring weakness for the Kernels offensively lies with their inexperienced line.

Guard Kyler Way, a 5-10, 202-pound senior, is the lone returner and will be joined by tackles Anthony Morgan (6-4, 202) and Scott Phillips (5-9, 205), guard Blake Baade (5-10, 173) and center Denen Rumbolz (5-11, 247).

"That's the weak spot for us is the offensive line," said Bailey, who lost Cody Bier and John Thome from the left side of the line to graduation from last season as well as two other starters. "That was huge. The big thing is being aggressive up front and moving our feet on contact. You have to be aggressive up front, especially when you're undersized."

Of note, Dakota Wesleyan head football coach Brad Pole said Friday that Bier, who is a freshman at DWU, will start on the offensive line when the Tigers open play Sept. 2 at home against Hastings.

Defensively, Bailey said he expects that group to keep the Kernels in many games this season, including tonight's opener.

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The Kernels play an eight-man front, but do so with three down linemen and then five linebackers roaming the line of scrimmage, shooting gaps and, hopefully, wreaking havoc in opponent's backfields.

Morgan and fellow senior Marcus Rothlisberger (5-8, 202) will play the ends while Jared Schulz (5-11, 175) will play at the nose. Trevor Smith (5-9, 168), Mitch Grieve (5-8, 154), Stratton Havlik (6-0, 165), Peterson and Baade will see most of the time at linebacker, and will be joined by Zach Talaga (5-9, 172), Wes Liddeke (5-10, 196), Larson and Way in the rotation.

Brady Zimmerman (5-8, 150), Hill, Brown, Jason Schmidt (6-0, 170) Alex Loes (5-8, 147) and Cody Christopherson (6-1, 136) will see a bulk of the time in the secondary.

"We've got some pretty good depth at most of our positions this year," Bailey said. "We've got a lot of experience on the defensive side of the ball. That's where we're going to have to make our bread and butter those first couple games."

Offensively tonight for O'Gorman, the Knights are starting a new era of sorts, replacing household names like quarterback Dusty Coleman and wide receiver Tyler Schulte. But Kueter feels he has players capable of filling the void.

"When you talk about Dusty Coleman and Tyler Schulte, you're talking about difference-makers. They may be the two best athletes we've ever had at O'Gorman and for both to be here at the same time is incredible," Kueter said. "We've got some guys (to replace them with). We've got some really good running backs and receivers."

Senior Brandon Boe will get the start at quarterback and Pat Wilka is the most likely candidate to fill Schulte's shoes at receiver.

Even with most of his holes filled with capable newcomers, Kueter said he still is wary about the Kernels in the opener. Bailey made no bones about the fact his team has to take shots at the big play against the Knights and, frankly, doesn't have a whole lot to lose.

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That sort of unpredictably has Kueter worried.

"(Bailey) probably has a better idea of what we're going to do going in than we do of what they're going to do," Kueter said. "Russ has got them going on the right track. That team comes at us and really feels they can be successful against us and it's a program that's improved tremendously. They scare the heck out of us."

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