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Final tune-up: Kerr gets nod at QB in regular season finale

The final week of the prep football regular season has arrived and Mitchell High School is still fighting for the highest seed it can attain in a long road trip to Spearfish tonight.

Mitchell's Austin Kerr runs past Harrisburg's Jack Christianson (30) on a kick return during a game on Friday at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mitchell's Austin Kerr runs past Harrisburg's Jack Christianson (30) on a kick return during a game on Friday at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The final week of the prep football regular season has arrived and Mitchell High School is still fighting for the highest seed it can attain in a long road trip to Spearfish tonight.

The Kernels enter the game looking to snap a two-game losing streak, while Spearfish enters in a position as the eighth-and final-playoff seed. Save for a pair of wins against Sturgis and Douglas, the Spartans have been outscored 258-13 in their six losses this season, which could be good news for a Mitchell team that has averaged just 206 yards of total offense during the past two games.

New signal caller

Mitchell's third-year starting quarterback Kiel Nelson suffered a shoulder injury during the third quarter of last Friday's loss to Harrisburg and did not return. The team turned to junior backup Austin Kerr for the second time in as many games due to a Nelson injury. In the second half against Pierre, Kerr didn't complete a pass, and in his first four drives against Harrisburg, the Kernels gained just three yards and one first down in four drives.

With one-minute and 49 seconds to play and Mitchell backed up on its own three-yard-line, Kerr came alive, completing four of his first five passes for 59 yards to put the Kernels in striking distance before penalties doomed the comeback bid.

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Nelson was not cleared to return to action this week, which means Kerr gets his first varsity start. Kerr has felt his confidence grow with more first-team repetitions in games and this week in practice.

"I hadn't taken a snap at quarterback for a while," Kerr said. "Last year, I played a little on JV, but I hadn't taken any with the first team (on varsity). So, that's helped out."

Time and travel concerns

Football games across the state shift from Friday to Thursday this week, meaning teams are working on a shortened schedule. Mitchell must also add in the 323-mile (one way) trip to Spearfish.

The Kernels already made a similar trip to Box Elder this season, toppling Douglas by 32 points on Sept. 21, and they enter the game with a 2-2 record on the road this season. Meanwhile, Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde sees the short week as an opportunity to get right back to work after a tough loss.

"...We can easily adjust our game plan and what we need to do," he said. "I think there's somewhat of a benefit from that one less day. We need to get on the football field again. We don't have to wait that extra day to get back on it and try to find that success and get that momentum going."

Defending the deep ball

Last week, Harrisburg's top priority was testing the Mitchell defense with deep passes. For the most part, the Kernels were able to defend it successfully, only giving up three long passes in the game. The only problem came when those three passes resulted in three touchdowns and 151 of the Tigers' 224 yards.

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VanOverschelde expects Spearfish quarterback Tyler Barkley to attempt some deep passes as well and 5-foot-9, 145-pound running back Taten Rhoades should be the top ball carrier out of the backfield.

"We're going to have to defend the deep ball, we're going to have to play disciplined and you can expect those multiple guys in the box (defensively)," VanOverschelde said. "So we're going to have our work cut out for us."

Related Topics: KERNELSMITCHELL KERNELS
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