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Mitchell and Harrisburg begin another chapter of the rivalry

Mitchell's Carson Max tackles Harrisburg running back Jack Anderson (30) during a SDHSAA Class 11AA playoff game on Nov. 3, 2017 at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade/Republic)

The playoff push has arrived for the Mitchell High School football team as it hosts Class 11AA No. 3 Harrisburg tonight in the regular season home finale at Joe Quintal Field.

The No. 4 Kernels enter the game seeded fifth in Class 11AA and in need of a win to keep hopes alive to slide into one of the top-four spots in order to earn a home playoff game.

High stakes rivalry

Not only are the two teams wrestling for one of the top four spots in the playoff bracket, but Mitchell and Harrisburg have become acquainted quite well during the last three seasons.

The two schools have played seven times since 2013 and four times since 2016, with the two schools trading playoff wins each of the past two seasons.

The Tigers have held the advantage over the years, however, beating the Kernels in six of those seven meetings, with the lone victory coming in the 2016 state championship game. Last season, Harrisburg ended Mitchell's season on its own turf, which hasn't been forgotten.

"There's motivation that we're playing Harrisburg, but there's added motivation because there's playoff implications involved," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "Our guys have done a nice a job of brushing the game a week ago and focusing on this week. I don't think there's any question that this game is a big priority for our guys."

Jack of all trades

Harrisburg doesn't boast a high-octane offense, but it's a unit that seems to find ways to score during critical situations. The Tigers have only scored more than 24 points twice this season and all but two games have been decided by at least two scores or less.

The offense centers on quarterback Jack Teigan, who has accounted for seven total touchdowns in the past two games, with four coming through the air. Mitchell has struggled to defend dual-threat quarterbacks this season, setting up a cat-and-mouse game.

"They kind of grind, pick away a little bit and then work between the 20s," VanOverschelde said. "They've been able to put together drives late in games to win. There's that threat of that quarterback and the fact that he just eventually finds ways to win games."

No fly zone

Not many teams have been able to solve Mitchell's rushing attack quite like Harrisburg did last season. In two games, the Tigers held the Kernels to just 2.9 yards per carry as a team.

By shutting down the ground game, Mitchell was forced to pass more than usual. Quarterback Kiel Nelson had 52 of his 89 passing attempts come against Harrisburg last season, which didn't bode well. For the Kernels to win, Nelson, Drew Kitchens and Carson Max must be effective running between the tackles.

"Our priority is to run the football and we need to do that to be competitive in the football game," VanOverschelde said.