The South Dakota High School Activities Association football playoff brackets have been set around the state and Mitchell High School knows its opponent for Thursday's first-round matchup.
The Kernels drew the No. 5 seed in Class 11AA, finishing the regular season with 39.889 seed points, and setting up a rematch with Brookings, which fell into the No. 4 seed. The Bobcats had 40.778 seed points, tied with Harrisburg for third, but the head-to-head tiebreaker went to the Tigers.
Mitchell and Brookings already played once this season at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, ending in a 28-14 win for the Kernels on Aug. 31. In that game, Mitchell jumped out to a 21-0 lead behind 430 rushing yards, but Brookings scored 14 points in the fourth quarter before the Kernels were able to seal the game with a Carson Max touchdown run.
"We feel like we're playing pretty good football at this point and we have some time to prepare," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "Brookings is a known opponent, but we know they've improved and had some success. It's just going to be a challenge, which you expect in the first round of the playoffs."
Should Mitchell make a playoff run, it will be without senior Kiel Nelson at quarterback. It was announced Friday that Nelson would miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury suffered in the third quarter of last Friday's loss to Harrisburg.
With Nelson sidelined, junior Austin Kerr steps into the starting role permanently. Kerr led the Kernels to a 41-7 win at Spearfish on Thursday in his first career start, going 3 of 3 for 34 yards and rushing for 62 more and a touchdown.
"Without Kiel it changes things up a bit," VanOverschelde said. "He's an important leader for our program and he's still going to have that role. Going forward, we hope we can continue to do some things and build around what Austin Kerr can bring to our offense."
For Nelson, it ends a three-year run as the starting quarterback for Mitchell, including as the signal caller for the 2016 state championship team. His 1,668 career passing yards rank sixth in school history and his 18 touchdown passes are tied with Todd Sprang for third all-time.
Nelson played 34 games under center for the Kernels, but his career comes to an end a bit prematurely.
"It's not anything you'd want to wish on any athlete," VanOverschelde said. "We understand the risk and possibility of things not going exactly your way. You can still benefit from the success of the people around you and there's no doubt that Kiel's going to be with us every snap, gritting his teeth right there with us."
Mitchell travels to Brookings at 7 p.m. on Thursday.