PIERRE — At the beginning of the season, coach Kent VanOverschelde set a goal of reaching the Class 11AA semifinals. Mitchell High School has achieved that goal, but a large obstacle blocks the path to the state finals.
Top-seeded Pierre is the unquestioned favorite to win the state championship after steamrolling through its first 10 games with little resistance, including a 75-7 romp of the fifth-seeded Kernels on Oct. 18 and last week’s 103-0 win against Spearfish.
Mitchell hopes to shatter the playoff picture when it travels to Pierre at 7 p.m. tonight in hopes of extending its season and reaching the state championship game on Nov. 15 at the Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.
‘Anything can happen’
Closing a 68-point gap is a daunting task, and to some, it may seem like an impossible task.
There are numerous examples of stunning upsets in sports history and the Mitchell coaching staff has discussed that with players throughout the week.
The Kernels are relishing their role as the underdog and the opportunity to play in the state semifinals, with a trip to Brookings at stake.
“Anything and everything can happen,” VanOverschelde said. “We need to just go out and compete. When you sign on, there’s no guarantee that success is going to be handed to you. We view this as an opportunity to compete on a significant stage.
“Our guys know where we’re at and if we can put them in the right position to execute, we can compete,” VanOverschelde continued.
Typically a win leads to a positive feeling around the school and the town, but Pierre’s triple-digit win last Thursday has been a hot-button topic throughout the state.
Governor coach Scott Steele has received adulation from some for churning out a machine in pursuit of becoming the first team to capture three consecutive 11AA state titles since the class was formed in 1981. Meanwhile, others have expressed vitriol through the belief that Steele and his team unnecessarily inflated the score.
Regardless, Pierre has attempted to avoid distractions — positive or negative — while preparing for a visit from Mitchell.
“I think we’ve had one of the best weeks of practice we’ve had all season,” Steele said. “We’ve seen a lot of intensity that we haven’t always seen. We’re one game from getting back to the championship game. That’s where we want to be and that’s where our focus has been.”
Avoiding the momentum wave
One of Pierre’s strengths this season has been the ability to gain momentum early in games.
Throughout the season, opponents have not been able to halt the Governors after a couple scores. And once the Governor offense is clicking, it allows the defense to play freely with a variety of blitzes, which has led to 62.1 points per game on offense and a total of 40 sacks on defense.
Last week, Mitchell overcame a 13-point first-half deficit to beat Sturgis, snapping a streak of 15 consecutive losses when falling behind in a game.
“One sign the from the first round game is that we did bounce back,” VanOverschelde said. “We did something about turning the tide and the momentum and that’s going to be critical (against Pierre). There hasn’t been anyone that has been able to stop that wave.”