For the first time this season, an opponent managed to slow down the Mitchell High School rushing attack.
After rushing for 236 yards on 6.9 yards per attempt in the first half, Class 11AA No. 4 Sturgis held the Kernels to 62 yards on 2.8 yards per attempt in the second half on Friday. It was compounded by a 29-20 halftime deficit and a Scooper passing attack that was clicking all night, forcing Mitchell to take some risks.
The fifth-ranked Kernels kept the offense on the field twice -- and attempted a fake punt -- in fourth-and-short situations and failed to convert each time. Mitchell head coach Kent Van Overschelde hoped his display of confidence would provide a jolt to the offense, but instead each stop led to a Sturgis touchdown in a 42-20 loss.
“Every football game is determined by three to five plays,” Van Overschelde said. “You never know when those plays are going to be, so you have to play every play so you have the opportunity, when it comes, to be a game-changer.”
Mitchell’s first attempt on fourth down came at its own 30 yard line with less than four minutes left in the first half. Sturgis had taken a 16-13 lead less than two minutes earlier on a 63-yard pass from Owen Cass to Sanden Graham and the Kernels were hoping to regain momentum.
Despite the deficit, Mitchell had little trouble moving the ball up to that point and gaining 1 yard seemed to be a reasonable feat. But with defenders in each gap, the Kernel offensive line could not create any movement along the Sturgis defensive line.
Still, there appeared to be a hole on the right side, but when fullback Jake Helleloid attempted to clear out linebacker Reese Jacobs, he only managed to get a piece of him. Jacobs was able to slip through and make just enough contact to bring down Josh Grosdidier short of the first down.
“We had that belief that we could continue this drive and this drive was obviously significant,” Van Overschelde said. “... Across, our pads have to be lower in that situation and (Jacobs) just slipped off. He had a big night.”
Mitchell decided to take another crack at a fourth-down conversion in the third quarter, trailing 29-20.
Nick Rubendall’s interception to start the second half allowed the Kernel offense to march to the Sturgis 48 before facing another fourth-and-1 scenario.
Once again the Mitchell offensive line created little movement. Center Kendell Fick not only had to block a defender lined up across from him at the snap, but a blitzing linebacker as well, which forced the hole to close quickly.
The Kernels could have picked up the first down, however, had Grosdidier decided to follow fullback Joe Van Overschelde to the edge. Sturgis committed eight defenders to stop the run, and if Grosdidier ran to the left, not only was there potential for a first down, but a touchdown.
The Mitchell coaching staff would have preferred Grosdidier line up a little deeper prior to the snap, which would have allowed him more time to survey the defense before making a decision. Instead, he ran into the back of his offensive line and tripped short of the first down.
“When (the defense slants down), the fullback is reading that, too,” Van Overschelde said. “In the I-formation, (Grosdidier) is at 5 yards (deep). If we get back to 7, we probably see that. Especially with Josh’s ability, he probably sees that, as far as where he needs to go. … I’ve seen it where you run this play on fourth-and-short and you end up taking it to the house because of the same thing.”