The new football season has finally arrived for Mitchell High School.
When the Class 11AA No. 5 Kernels take the field against Douglas today for the fourth annual Kernel Bowl, they will have a different look than when they walked out of Dykhouse Stadium last October in a season-ending loss to Brookings.
Mitchell is 1-2 in the first three incarnations of the Kernel Bowl and it is hoping to avoid a similar late-game collapse that saw a 19-point lead evaporate and Watertown score 40 points in 14 minutes, 31 seconds last season.
Learning to finish
The sour ending to that game against Watertown was just the beginning of the Kernels’ trouble playing with a lead last season and head coach Kent VanOverschelde is looking for his team to break the trend.
Mitchell held a second-half lead in four of its six losses last season and led by double digits in three of those games, all of which were played at Joe Quintal Field.
“Any specific thing that I’m going to look for is our ability to finish off football games,” VanOverschelde said. “That’s something from a year ago that we struggled with. It’ll be a real test of where we are as a football team and where we can go going forward.”
Developing a ferocious defensive front
Part of closing out games is playing stout defense and the Kernels surrendered at least 40 points on four different occasions last season.
A big part of the defense -- now run by VanOverschelde -- is the play of the line. Junior Wyatt Winter returns at tackle, while Ben Ziebarth is back at end after moving into the starting lineup late last season as a sophomore.
There is also going to be depth up front, with rotation at the other end spot with sophomore Adam Fahey and senior Maxwell Bennett, while Carlos Contreras, Beau Foote and Andrew Gunnare will also see playing time.
“One of the key parts is going to be rotations in our defensive line,” VanOverschelde said. “Guys are going to play assignment football up front and give us a chance to make plays. The key is, you can bend, but not break and our defensive line is going to be an important part of that. I believe we have some depth and I think they’re going to be critical.”
Kerr’s time to shine
Offensively, the unit is in the hands of senior Austin Kerr, who takes over for the starting quarterback job after the graduation of three-year starter Kiel Nelson.
Kerr spent most of his summer sidelined from surgery on his throwing shoulder, but he is cleared to play and is not without experience. He started the final two games last season and saw playing time in two previous games, going 9 of 20 for 105 yards and an interception.
“The biggest thing I’m looking for from him is overall management of the offense,” VanOverschelde said. “… He made a decision in the spring to make sure he was going to be available for his senior year and there’s no doubt he’s going to be ready to go.”