Coming off a shootout win over Yankton, Class 11AA No. 3 Mitchell High School travels to Class 11AA No. 2 Brookings at 7 p.m. today for its stiffest test to date.
All five wins have come by double figures for the unbeaten Bobcats, while the Kernels have been involved in a one-score game entering the fourth quarter during the last four outings, including last week’s 45-42 win against the Bucks.
With the four games remaining on the regular season slate, the outcome today is sure to have a major impact on the Class 11AA playoff picture.
Mitchell has taken four of the last five games in the series with Brookings, but the teams share similarities.
Both squads have run-oriented offenses with a mobile quarterback that can make plays on the ground or through the air. Brookings is averaging 355.8 yards of total offense, with 241.6 coming on the ground behind running back Carter Eidem (352 yards and six touchdowns) and quarterback Tanner Shepardson (331 yards and six touchdowns).
Meanwhile, Mitchell has picked up 252.2 yards on the ground per game, with Parker Phillips rushing for 854 yards and 11 scores thus far.
“There are definitely similarities between our programs,” MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “Coach (Jed) Schmidt has been around for a long time, and since he’s taken over the program, he’s definitely done an excellent job.”
Technique takes on size
Mitchell has experienced success rushing the ball in nearly every game this year, but last week’s 363 yards were a season-high.
Phillips ran for 259 of those yards, while quarterback Austin Kerr pitched in 64 and Nick Robinson emerged as a change-of-pace back with 36 yards and a touchdown.
The Brookings defense has limited two opponents to fewer than 100 total yards this season and is surrendering just 67.4 yards per game on the ground.
To find success against a defensive line averaging 235 pounds and anchored by defending Class A 220-pound wrestling state champion Gus Miller, Mitchell will have to rely on blocking technique.
“Their size up front will be a challenge,” VanOverschelde said. “Our goal from the defensive side will be to rotate and play as many players as we can to keep them fresh. On the offensive side, one way to negate size is technique and that will be a focus for our offensive line.”
Preventing an aerial attack
With two stingy run defenses, the game may come down to which team makes more plays in the passing game.
In the passing game, Shepardson is completing 48.9 percent of his passes on 90 attempts, with 545 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. On the flipside, Kerr is only averaging 55.2 passing yards per game on 51 total attempts, however.
The Kernels surrendered a season-worst 219 yards through the air to Yankton’s Cooper Cornemann and the Bobcats have shown a willingness to take shots down field or deploy a quick passing game depending on the defensive coverage.
“Shepardson has just gained confidence,” VanOverschelde said. “He is definitely going to be a key for us, but (Brookings) has a core group of receivers and you can tell they’re very comfortable within their system.”