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Watertown stuns Kernels in season opener

Mitchell's Kiel Nelson (3) slips past the attempted tackle of Watertown's Blake Holden (41) during a game on Saturday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Everything was going according to plan for the Mitchell High School football team in Saturday night's Kernel Bowl against Watertown at newly updated Joe Quintal Field.

With 2:41 left in the third quarter, Carson Max plunged across the goal line for a one-yard touchdown run, capping an 83-yard drive in which the Kernels imposed their will to take a 19-0 lead.

The Mitchell defense only gave up one first down in the second half and held the Arrows to negative rushing yardage for the entire game. Still there was a matter of the remaining 14:31 left on the clock, and somehow, it all went south from there for the Kernels.

Watertown's Adam DeJong returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, sparking a wild comeback that saw the Arrows score 40 unanswered points to stun the hometown crowd, 40-19.

"Give Watertown credit. They got some momentum off the special teams and just built it," Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "And we did not respond."

Mitchell was able to jump out to a three-score lead thanks to a pair of first-half touchdown passes from senior Kiel Nelson, both of which came on fourth down.

Nelson was able to find tight end Payton Olson down the seam for a 35-yard touchdown early in the second quarter and then zipped another fourth-down pass to Drew Kitchens for a 10-yard score just before halftime to head into the break up 12-0.

"If you would have told me before the game that we would've put two touchdowns on the board passing, I would have thought you were crazy," Nelson said. "It feels good to be able to establish that in this first game. I know we fell off a bit at the end, but it feels good to put points on the board through the passing game."

After the teams exchanged three-and-out possessions to start the second half, Mitchell went back to basics, grinding out a long drive that saw Max pick up 36 yards on the ground and nine more on a screen pass. It seemed as if all the momentum was in favor of the Kernels.

Then DeJong returned the kickoff. It was followed by a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown by Garrett Determan in the early stages of the fourth quarter. On Watertown's next possession, Jake Werner hauled in a Brandon Florey pass down the sideline for another 41-yard touchdown and the visitors took a 20-19 lead without gaining a first down.

"We've got some guys that are fast and if they have a chance to hit a seam, they can score touchdowns," Watertown head coach John Hodorff said. "That showed in two special teams in a row and Mitchell started pressing and didn't cover a few guys. Mitchell took care of us pretty much all night."

While Watertown connected on big plays throughout the first quarter, Mitchell's offense sputtered down the stretch. The Kernels went three-and-out on three of its four possessions and then turned the ball over on downs twice, including on a failed fake punt attempt.

"In hindsight maybe we should have been trying to keep it going," VanOverschelde said. "But in reality they just took it to us."

Nelson finished 7 of 22 passing for 99 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while also running for 85 yards. Max added 57 yards on the ground and Olson had 55 receiving yards.

Florey threw an interception in the first half, but ended 15 of 23 for 211 yards and three touchdowns for Watertown.

Carson Max had nine tackles and a forced fumble for Mitchell, while Dylan Krogman had eight tackles and a sack. Levi Winne had five tackles, Jackson Sadler had an interception and Parker Roden recovered a fumble.

Mitchell (0-1) travels to Brookings on Friday, while Watertown (1-0) hosts Rapid City Central on the same night.

NOTES: Nelson was named the Kernel Bowl's Most Outstanding Back, while Watertown's Adam Turbak was the game's Most Outstanding Lineman. ... Kitchens left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury and did not return to the game.

Scoring Summary

Second Quarter

M: Payton Olson 35 pass from Kiel Nelson (kick failed)

M: Drew Kitchens 10 pass from Nelson (pass failed)

Third Quarter

M: Max 1 run (Trevor Lambert kick)

W: Adam DeJong 85 kick return (Leo Schuermann kick)

Fourth Quarter

W: Garrett Determan 58 punt return (Schuermann kick)

W: Jake Werner 41 pass from Brandon Florey (pass failed)

W: Brett Fossum 11 run (Schuermann kick)

W: Blake Holden 37 pass from Florey (kick blocked)

W: Werner 26 pass from Florey (Schuermann kick)

RUSHING (ATT-YDS): W: Brett Fossum 12-6, Brandon Florey 2-1, Kale Stevenson 1-(-4), Garrett Determan 1-(-5). M: Kiel Nelson 22-85, Carson Max 16-57, Austin Kerr 5-3, Trevor Lambert 1-(-9).

PASSING (C-A-INT-YDS): W: Brandon Florey 13-24-1-212. M: Kiel Nelson: 7-22-1-99.

RECEIVING (REC-YDS): W: Garrett Determan 4-40, Jake Werner 3-75, Balke Holden 2-47, Parker Schmidt 2-43, Evan Falconer 2-7. M: Payton Olson 3-55, Kaden Soukup 1-18, Drew Kitchens 1-10, Carson Max 1-9, Koby Larson 1-7.