PIERRE -- Mitchell High School’s football season came to an end with an all-too-familiar feeling in the Class 11AA quarterfinals on Thursday.
The sixth-seeded Kernels were on the cusp of a stunning upset, one that would have ended No. 3 Pierre’s run of three consecutive Class 11AA state championships. In fact, Mitchell did not trail until Lincoln Kienholz hit Aaron Booth in the corner of the end zone with 2 minutes, 44 seconds to play.
A defensive fistfight for three quarters had turned into a shootout in the final frame, with the teams trading six touchdowns in less than eight minutes.
But after having an answer to Pierre all night, Mitchell did not have enough magic left in a 34-27 loss. For the fourth time this season, the Kernels held a fourth-quarter lead and came away empty.
"We came here with a mission of leaving everything on the football field and I think we accomplished that," MHS head coach Kent Van Overschelde said. "The end might be representative of our season, but we battled a good Pierre football team at their place and gave them all they could handle. To give up 34 points and play the way we did defensively is another example of our season, as far as battling and the big play has been an issue for us."
Early in the game, the teams traded punches, with Parker Phillips landing the first blow with a 35-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive. Pierre eventually got on the board with a Maguire Raske touchdown run in the second quarter and the Kernels led 7-6 at halftime.
Through the third quarter, the Mitchell defense continually found ways to foil promising drives by the Governors. The Kernels denied Pierre on three red-zone possessions, including two inside the 5-yard line.
A Jace Larson interception and a missed field goal at the end of the second quarter also aided the Mitchell defensive effort. Meanwhile, after a fourth-down stop at the 5-yard line, Josh Grosdidier shed tackles and burst into the open field for an 84-yard touchdown to give the Kernels a 13-6 lead going into the fourth quarter.
"Our guys came with a belief that they could be successful," Van Overschelde said. "I'm super proud of our effort here."
A punt return to the Mitchell 22 put Pierre in business and quarterback Lincoln Kienholz needed one play to sprint to the end zone to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, starting a see-saw string of possessions.
Phillips responded with an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but Brock Moser had a 67-yard return of his own to the Kernel 18. The MHS defense appeared on its way to another stand, but Kienholz found Regan Bollweg for a 16-yard score on fourth-and-9.
Tucker Vilhauer, who had a career-high 126 passing yards, hit Phillips for a 32-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing possession. But Kienholz came right back with a touchdown pass to Aaron Booth.
Raske ran for 137 yards in the game, but it was Kienholz who was given full control of the Governor offense and it immediately opened holes in the Mitchell defense. The sophomore shrugged off two third-quarter turnovers to finish 15 of 19 for 281 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another 91 yards.
"The key would have been for us to get some pressure," Van Overschelde said. "Their quarterback kind of stood back there. Twice on touchdown passes, he was able to double-pump and go to a different receiver. We worked to keep the momentum in the fourth quarter with some big plays, but they were able to regain it. We didn't get the pressure we needed to help the coverage."
Mitchell had an answer for Pierre for most of the night, but the offense finally ran out of steam, tied at 27. On the final two possessions of the game, the Kernels ran six plays for minus-25 yards and the lights went out on the season when Vilhauer was picked off by Kienholz with 2 minutes left and no timeouts remaining.
"We weren't able to get to the edge, especially on first down and it put us behind," Van Overschelde said. "I thought Tucker Vilhauer threw the ball the best he has all year. There were some top-notch performances that kept us competitive in the game."
Grosdidier had 101 yards on nine attempts, while Vilhauer had 57 yards on the ground and Phillips had 28.
Raske had four receptions for 87 yards, while Bollweg had four grabs for 84 yards for the Governors, who now travel to No. 2 Yankton in the semifinals on Nov. 6.
Mitchell finishes the season 3-7.
Pierre 34, Mitchell 27
M: Parker Phillips 35 run (Trenton Regan kick)
P: Maguire Raske 6 run (Kick failed)
M: Josh Grosdidier 84 run (Kick failed)
P: Lincoln Kienholz 22 run (Carston Miller kick)
M: Phillips 86 kick return (Regan kick)
P: Regan Bollweg 16 pass from Kienholz (Miller kick)
M: Phillips 32 pass from Tucker Vilhauer (Regan kick)
P: Aaron Booth 30 pass from Kienholz (Miller kick)
P: Booth 20 pass from Kienholz (Miller kick)
RUSHING (ATT-YDS): M: Josh Grosdidier 9-101, Tucker Vilhauer 13-57, Parker Phillips 13-28, Joe Van Overschelde 2-9, Jake Helleloid 1-(-1), Total 38-194. P: Maguire Raske 27-137, Lincoln Kienholz 14-91, Collin Brueggeman 3-(-25), Total 45-203.
PASSING (A-C-INT-YDS-TD): M: Vilhauer 14-7-1-126-1. P: Kienholz 19-15-1-281-3.
RECEIVING (REC-YDS): M: Phillips 3-54, Ryley Johansen 2-39, Jace Larson 1-28, Van Overschelde 1-5. P: Raske 4-87, Regan Bollweg 4-84, Jack Merkwan 3-50, Aaron Booth 2-50, Brueggeman 1-6, Matthew Hanson 1-4.