Consistency is key for Kernels with season on the line

Mitchell's Parker Phillips (41) attempts to break free from Huron defenders during a game on Oct. 22 at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell High School football coach Kent Van Overschelde pushed the importance of continuing to improve each week during the regular season, but now it is about winning.

The sixth-seeded Kernels have capsized, dropping their final six games of the regular season and if they cannot defeat No. 3 Pierre at 7 p.m. today in the Class 11AA quarterfinals, the season is sunk.

Mitchell has not suffered more than six losses since a 1-8 campaign in 2012, but this season started with promise. The Kernels have rushed for 3,045 yards this season -- second-most in school history -- it is just a matter of remaining consistent.

Returning to Pierre for the second time in three weeks, less than 14 days removed from a 48-20 loss, Mitchell must find a way to win and avoid season-ending disappointment.

“We’ve talked about why there’s football left to play,” Van Overschelde said. “There’s still opportunity to succeed. I think we’ve had success, we just haven’t had any victories recently. … Our guys have to know that urgency and our season comes down to one game at Pierre.”


Finishing drives

Since Class 11AA split into two classes in 2013, lower seeds have won quarterfinal games on four occasions, including a pair of No. 6 seeds. Mitchell even has history as an underdog, overcoming a 1-6 start to the 1993 season before making a run to the state finals.

But after two weeks of games being decided on the final play, the Kernels have lost the last four by an average of 22.5 points per game, with a 28-point loss to the Governors being the low point.

Not only will Mitchell have to control the ball this time around, but the offense cannot waste opportunities. The Kernels have suffered five scoreless trips to the red zone during the last three weeks and opponents have scored on the ensuing drive four times, including when Pierre got a stop at its 10 during a tie game and rattled off 41 consecutive points.

“We have to find that consistency and it comes down to building off each play and each series,” Van Overschelde said. “We’re not going to have control of every situation, but we do have control of how we’re going to react. We just have to build up any momentum that we can.”

Avoiding trouble on third down

Third down efficiency has proved costly for Mitchell on offense and defense in recent weeks.

During the last three games, opponents have converted 59.4 percent of third downs, while the Kernels have completed 34.3 percent. They have faced three more third down scenarios than opponents during that span, which means the defense has found success early on drives.

Mitchell must avoid back-breaking plays on defense and avoid third-and-long drive-killers on offense and that means successful runs on first and second downs.

The Kernels have three players with double-digit rushing touchdowns in Parker Phillips, Josh Grosdidier and Tucker Vilhauer. Despite being held to less than 100 in the last three games, Phillips has 1,401 yards and Vilhauer is 67 yards shy of being the first Mitchell tandem to have 1,000 yards apiece in a season.


As strong as the running game has been, the Kernels have 414 passing yards on 28.4 percent completions, which means avoiding passing scenarios is crucial to sustaining drives.

“Priorities this week are understanding our situation,” Van Overschelde said. “Third downs were a priority going into the season. We wanted to focus on doing a much better job of that, but it’s been a challenge for us.”

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