The Mitchell High School football team has gotten off to a strong start in all three of its games this season. The Class 11AA No. 5 Kernels have held a two-touchdown lead during the first half of each game thus far.
The problem, though, is each of those leads has evaporated. Mitchell has been outscored 75-20 in the second half this season, while also getting blitzed 61-7 in the fourth quarter.
In one of those games—at Brookings on Aug. 31—the Kernels were able to buckle down late in the fourth quarter, but the other two have led to lopsided defeats. On Friday, Yankton erased a 14-0 hole in the first quarter and held Mitchell scoreless in the second half of a 42-21 win.
"It's definitely a mental obstacle we have to overcome," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "We build confidence through the week, but it seems like one breakdown will lead to the next one. We're just trying to work through it and stay positive."
In each of the first three games, one play swung the momentum in favor of the opponent and it happened shortly after Mitchell scored a touchdown to seemingly take control of the game, but each of those plays was also followed by another touchdown by opponents.
The defense has surrendered 586 passing yards and nine touchdowns through the air in two losses, but VanOverschelde has pointed to the offense as being the unit that took its foot off the gas pedal, resulting in three-and-out drives.
"I look at where we could have been if the offense stays on the field—field position and all those different things," he said. "If we can build confidence on offense, the defense will follow."
Prior to the first game, VanOverschelde voiced concern about his team's ability to handle adversity and it became an unintentional self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, however, the concern is real.
Mitchell has proven it can move the ball on offense, averaging 380 total yards per game, while Drew Kitchens, Carson Max and Kiel Nelson average more than 90 rushing yards apiece. The defense has also been stout at times, but the Kernels have yet to maintain that success as a team through the entirety of a football game.
"The biggest thing we want to do is find some consistency in our success," VanOverschelde said. "At this point, there's been some consistency in our ability to lose focus. ... It's high school football and the opportunities are minimal when you think about how quickly a season goes by."
VanOverschelde is now looking at ways to help his team quell the momentum when the pendulum swings in the opposite direction going forward.
"We just have to get everybody on that same page and understand that everyone is accountable," he said. "It's not just one or two guys or somebody that doesn't have the experience. We're all in this together and we need to fix it together."
The Kernels (1-2) play at Class 11AAA No. 4 Sioux Falls Washington (1-2) at 5 p.m. on Friday at Howard Wood Field.