Missed assignments and improper technique plagued the Mitchell High School defense for two weeks and it was evident on the scoreboard.

The Kernels have five first-year starters on defense and growing pains led to consecutive 40-point outings, but when they needed to rally, Mitchell came through with a stellar defensive performance in a 42-23 win over Sturgis on Saturday at Joe Quintal Field.

Three of the four leading tacklers were sophomores and two more tallied touchdowns as Mitchell’s youth took a step toward maturity.

“All those guys that are on the field want to compete,” MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “They want to play at a high level and what we ask of them is the same expectation they have for themselves. Those expectations can make good things happen in your program.”

Joe VanOverschelde is Mitchell’s leading tackler this season and the sophomore linebacker once again led the team with nine tackles, while classmate Tucker Vilhauer added seven tackles and a fumble recovery from his safety position and defensive end Adam Fahey chipped in six tackles.

The Kernels forced four turnovers and the first-team defense surrendered 125 total yards and led Sturgis 35-2 after three quarters.

Sophomore linebacker Jake Helleloid started a 21-point third-quarter scoring spree by returning a punt blocked by Nick Robinson 13 yards for a touchdown. Meanwhile, the defense held the Scoopers to 20 yards and got key interceptions from seniors Ryan McGinnis and Peyton Nash.

“They’re growing and learning,” VanOverschelde said of his defense. “To have us react the way that we did is a mark of how we’ve grown to this point in the season and we need to continue to grow and get better.”

Kerr keys Kernel offense

For most of the first six weeks of the season, the Mitchell offense was hinged upon running back Parker Phillips, but against Sturgis, the Kernels used the versatility of quarterback Austin Kerr.

In the first quarter, Kerr found another sophomore -- Caden Hinker -- for a leaping grab along the sideline to set up the first of three touchdowns by Robinson. Later in the quarter, he hit Hinker for a 13-yard touchdown for his first touchdown pass since Week 1.

As the game wore on, however, Kerr’s running ability and improvisation skills proved to be a key weapon. Despite nursing an ankle injury all week, the senior recorded his first career 100-yard rushing game. Many of his 105 yards coming on scrambles, including a 56-yard scamper in the third quarter.

“They’d blitz more than one linebacker and I’d just try to get out of the pocket,” Kerr said. “I’d look downfield first to see if a receiver was open, and if no one was, I’d just tuck it and run.”

Reichelt, Koletzky create another memory

During his film preparation throughout the week, Sturgis head coach Chris Koletzky noticed a familiar figure celebrating and sprinting down the Mitchell sidelines during key plays.

As he neared the end of the postgame handshake line, Koletzky realized for certain that he had crossed paths with that young man once before.

Of course, it was former Kernel Tayler Reichelt -- born with Down Syndrome -- who reeled off a 58-yard touchdown run against the Scoopers in an Oct. 27, 2016 playoff game that would become one of the most memorable moments in the recent history of Kernel athletics.

“It’s one of those things that I’ll never forget,” Koletzky said. “Our program still has a long way to go, but what those boys did that night, I’m so proud of them. That’s a memory all of us will remember and cherish.”

Standing between Kent VanOverschelde and Koletzky, Reichelt posed for a photograph with the two coaches that helped orchestrate that moment in 2016. In fact, Koletzky still has a photo at home commemorating that night.

Now 22 years old and detailing cars at Vern Eide Ford following a two-year program through LifeQuest at Dakota Wesleyan University, Reichelt is still an integral part of the Mitchell football community.

He still spends time as a manager with the Kernels -- while watching his cousin, Hinker -- and with the DWU football team, where his brother Cody is currently a linebacker. And as proof of his interaction with Koletzky, Reichelt always draws a smile and a crowd.

“People just flock to him,” said Reichelt’s mother, Anne. “Everywhere we go, everyone knows him. I don’t know half the people he knows. He’s like a celebrity. I don’t know what it is, but he’s just a loving, caring, compassionate person.”