Explosive plays are key as Kernels look to snap skid at Sturgis

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Mitchell's Tucker Vilhauer (16) carries the ball during a game against Brookings on Friday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Playoff position is in play and Mitchell High School needs a win to stay in line to host a first-round playoff game.

The Class 11AA No. 4 Kernels square off with Sturgis at 7 p.m. today, with similar stakes to last year’s matchup, only this time the Class 11AA No. 5 Scoopers have home-field advantage at Woodle Field. Mitchell is currently fourth in the Class 11AA standings at 3-3, while Sturgis is fifth at 2-4, followed by a 2-4 Huron squad.

Last year’s game at Joe Quintal Field resulted in a 42-23 win for the Kernels, but the teams ended up pitted in a rematch in Sturgis for the first round of the playoffs after Mitchell dropped its final two games of the regular season.

The Kernels are also looking to get back into the win column this week after losing three consecutive games despite holding a fourth-quarter lead in each.

“I think we’re in a better situation this year because of the competitiveness of the football games and level of which we played,” MHS head coach Kent Van Overschelde said. “I think we’re a better football team (than last year), but Sturgis plays really well at home. … If they win, they find themselves ahead of us in hosting a home playoff game. There are some similarities, but I think we’re a better football team than we were a year ago and I think we can right the ship.”


Regaining offensive explosiveness

Mitchell has not struggled to move the ball during the last two weeks, but its ability to create chunk plays has been held in check.

Parker Phillips broke loose for a 37-yard touchdown run against Brookings and Ryley Johansen caught a 38-yard pass from Tucker Vilhauer against Yankton the week prior, but the Kernels have been held without a 40-yard gain after posting 13 plays of 40 yards or more in the first four weeks.

After posting a season-low 231 yards last week, Mitchell is focused on getting its high-powered rushing attack back in gear.

“We have to look for work downfield, we have to make sure we’re blocking on the perimeter to create those bigger plays,” Van Overschelde said. “Guys have to understand that playing from the snap to the whistle is going to make a difference for us.”

Creating a dependable defense

As the Kernels are looking for more big plays on offense, their defense is hoping to eliminate big plays.

Mitchell surrendered 531 yards of total offense to Brookings, but 204 of those yards came on three touchdowns of 61, 68 and 75 yards. If the Kernels can avoid major gashes, it could spell a tough day for the Sturgis offense, which has averaged 8.5 points per game this year.

The Scoopers have used three quarterbacks, with sophomore Owen Cass getting most of the work. Cass has gone 26 of 59 for 281 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions this season, while Sturgis has averaged 42.8 yards per game on the ground thus far.

Mitchell sees this game as a chance to be opportunistic, having forced 11 turnovers this season. Meanwhile, the Scoopers have 10 giveaways, including eight interceptions.


“If the offense comes off the field, it would be nice to create a turnover to change the momentum,” Van Overschelde said. “It’s all about being opportunistic, and defensively, we have to continue to strive for that.”

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