Mitchell could not overcome an early three-score deficit, falling at home to Class 11AA No. 3 Aberdeen Central, 33-14, in the sixth annual Kernel Bowl football game Saturday night at Joe Quintal Field.
The Kernels racked up 367 total yards to Aberdeen Central’s 348, but it was the Golden Eagles’ ability to finish drives that ultimately decided the contest.
Aberdeen Central quarterback Sam Rohlfs connected with receiver Jacob Merxbauer for a 61-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, but the Kernels’ offense looked poised to answer the big play with a score of its own. Mitchell took the ball deep into Golden Eagle territory, but the drive stalled just inside the 15-yard line, and Aberdeen Central intercepted a pass on fourth-and-4 to end the Kernels' opening drive.
That sequence would become a microcosm of the game, with Mitchell coming up just short of matching the Golden Eagles on more than the one occasion.
The game’s largest swing came in the second quarter, as Merxbauer and Rohlfs linked up again early in the frame for a 24-yard touchdown, putting Aberdeen Central up 14-0. Twenty-one second later, after a second interception, a Rohlfs pass would find the endzone again, with Drew Salfrank getting open for a 45-yard score that brought the score to 20-0.
Mitchell was able to break through on its next possession, as quarterback Treyson Schulz carried the ball in from 3 yards out. The score came just one play after running back Josh Grosdidier converted a fourth-and-2 inside the 5-yard line and capped a 12-play, 74-yard drive.
However, Aberdeen Central would strike again just before halftime. On the tenth play of the ensuing drive, Merxbauer took a reverse handoff 11 yards for his third score and put his team ahead 27-7 at the break.
“Having Aberdeen get out to a lead and play with the lead, we just didn’t really show our composure as well as I would’ve liked,” Mitchell coach Kent VanOverschelde said.
Halftime adjustments changed the game’s dynamic, as for much of the third quarter, it was the Kernels who were dictating the pace and controlling the ball.
“I thought our guys did a great job,” VanOverschelde said. “Offensively we seemed to respond well. Defensively we played really well in the second half. I see a lot of good things with our football team.”
The Kernels’ second score came just two minutes into the second half, as Schulz used his legs again to score from 55 yards out on fourth-and-2.
“It was a read-option play,” Schulz explained. “I saw the guy come off the edge, so I just took it. My receiver blocked really well, and that’s why we got a touchdown out of it.”
The Golden Eagles punted on their next drive, meaning Mitchell had the ball with an opportunity to cut the deficit to a single score, but it was not to be. After stringing together a few first downs, Grosdidier was stopped a half yard short of the first down marker on fourth-and-2 in Aberdeen Central territory and the Kernels would never truly threaten to score again.
Rohlfs tacked on a rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 33-14, effectively putting the game out of reach.
VanOverschelde pointed out that Mitchell was hindered by penalties and turnovers again on Saturday, and that situation still requires improvement.
“Penalties were obviously still a problem, especially early,” VanOverschelde said. “We cleaned up some of the things related to technique, and then tonight we had several [penalties] related to emotional plays. I realize it means a lot to our guys, but we have to play at a high level while remaining disciplined and maintaining composure at all times.”
Nine infractions totaled 113 penalty yards and the Kernels were minus-three in turnover margin.
Schulz went 12-of-19 for 112 yards through the air and churned out 114 yards on the ground, including his two touchdowns. Grosdidier had 80 yards on 17 carries to go with Tucker Vilhauer’s 49 yards on eight attempts. Grosdidier, AJ Siemsen and Jace Larson each had three receptions for the Kernels.
For the Golden Eagles, Rohlfs completed 5 of 12 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, adding 44 yards and a fourth score on the ground. Merxbauer had 98 yards on three receptions and three total touchdowns. Karson Carda gained 76 yards on 13 rushing attempts.
Mitchell hosts 11AA No. 1 Tea Area (3-0) next Friday, Sept. 17.