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Kernels achieve DakotaDome dream

It was a moment 23 years in the making. When the clock finally struck zero, the Mitchell sideline celebrated in jubilation as the Kernels clinched their first state championship appearance since 1993. Mitchell opened a 17-0 lead and went on to pu...

Mitchell's Briggs Havlik (15) celebrates as the Kernels defeat Pierre 52-14 in a class 11AA state semi-final game on Friday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Mitchell's Briggs Havlik (15) celebrates as the Kernels defeat Pierre 52-14 in a class 11AA state semi-final game on Friday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade/Republic)

It was a moment 23 years in the making.

When the clock finally struck zero, the Mitchell sideline celebrated in jubilation as the Kernels clinched their first state championship appearance since 1993.

Mitchell opened a 17-0 lead and went on to put away Pierre 52-14 in the Class 11AA semifinals on Friday. The top-seeded Kernels (10-1) will take on second-seeded Harrisburg (9-2) in Class 11AA state championship game at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

"It was always our dream and now it's coming true," senior running back Sam Michels said after the game. "Us seniors have been playing together since seventh-grade. You can't describe the feeling."

Michels and Kernels soaked in the moment after fending off a pesky Pierre team that tested Mitchell all night.

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After building a 24-7 halftime lead, the Governors (5-6) looked poised to cut into the Kernels' lead. After a pair of first downs, Pierre quarterback Peyton Zabel's pass was intercepted by senior safety Jed Schmidt and two plays later, Michels scored on a five-yard touchdown run to push Mitchell's lead to 31-7.

"You can feel the crowd is behind us and it's a special feeling," said Schmidt, who finished the game with three tackles and two interceptions. "All of our (defensive backs) played well and we have to credit our line for getting some great sacks."

Schmidt's interception to start the second half reignited the Kernel sideline and Spencer Neugebauer's fourth rushing touchdown-a 47-yard scamper up the middle-put Mitchell completely in control with a 38-7 lead late in the third quarter.

"That was a tough one because we had a drive going," Pierre head coach Steve Steele said about Schmidt's interception. "We wanted to win the third quarter and that pick took the wind out a little bit. They made some good plays."

Neugebauer ended up setting a new school single-game record for rushing yards with 325 yards. He also claimed the all-time touchdown record in a single season for a South Dakota football player in 11-man football with 39 touchdowns (35 rushing, four receiving).

"Give credit to this senior class and it starts with Jed Schmidt, Spencer Neugebauer and right down the line," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "Defensively, we just find a way to make plays when we need to and that turnover battle was huge."

Three of Neugebauer's touchdowns came in the first half, including a 15-yard touchdown run on the opening drive. After a 30-yard field goal from Seth Paulson made it 10-0, Neugebauer broke off a 46-yard touchdown run to make it a three-score game early in the second quarter.

"The offense came and executed the plays," Neugebauer said. "We did a good job."

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The Governors got on the board with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Zabel to Brad Dean to make it 17-7 with 9:33 remaining in the first half before the Kernels answered and took a 24-7 lead at halftime.

"We were able to do some good things on defense, but we knew we'd have to put up around 30 (points) to have a chance to win and 14 (points) just isn't going to cut it against a team like Mitchell," Steele said. "We put our defense in terrible situations in the second half."

Trailing 38-7, another Pierre touchdown pass trimmed the Kernel lead to 24 points, before Kiel Nelson added a short touchdown run on a quarterback sneak with 6 minutes remaining to put Mitchell up 45-14.

Schmidt added his second interception of the game on the next Pierre drive, with Drew Kitchens scoring on the next play from 10 yards out with 4:22 remaining to make it 52-14.

"It was crucial for us to play four quarters of football," VanOverschelde said. "We needed to test ourselves both mentally and physically. We knew it'd be that type of game and Pierre was going to play hard."

Defensively, Briggs Havlik led the Kernels with 12 tackles and one sack, while Cody Reichelt added eight tackles and Kyle Foote chipped in six tackles and three sacks.

Neugebauer finished with 33 carries for 325 yards and four touchdowns as Mitchell racked up 424 yards of total offense all on the ground in the win. Michels added 77 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Kitchens had 25 rushing yards and a touchdown.

"It's pretty exciting to get to this point," said VanOverschelde, who added he plans to enjoy Friday's win throughout the weekend. "I want our coaches to enjoy it and most of all have our kids enjoy it, but then it's back to work. This team has done a great job preparing for a game each week and it's down to one."

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Pierre was led by Zabel, who completed 14 of 31 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked five times for negative 25 yards rushing. Spencer Sarringar had six catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, while Dean finished with six catches for 86 yards and one touchdown.

After making history on Friday, Mitchell now focuses on creating more history by winning the school's first-ever state championship in the playoff era (since 1981).

"Like coach (Travis) Carp(enter) says, 'Right back to work on Monday,' " Neugebauer said. "He says that every week. We'll be right back to work on Monday."

PHS 0 7 7 0 -14

MHS 10 14 14 14 -52

Scoring summary

First quarter

M: Spencer Neugebauer 15 run (Seth Paulson kick)

M: Paulson 30 field goal

Second quarter

M: Neugebauer 46 run (Paulson kick)

P: Brad Dean 28 pass from Peyton Zabel (Kaden Hight kick)

M: Neugebauer 1 run (Paulson kick)

Third quarter

M: Sam Michels 5 run (Paulson kick)

M: Neugebauer 47 run (Paulson kick)

P: Spencer Sarringar 28 pass from Zabel (Hight kick)

Fourth quarter

M: Kiel Nelson 1 run (Paulson kick)

M: Drew Kitchens 10 run (Paulson kick)

RUSHING: M: Spencer Neugebauer 33-325-4, Sam Michels 12-77-1, Drew Kitchens 4-25-1, Kiel Nelson 4-(-1)-1; P: Jack Maher 1-4-0, Garrett Stout 4-0-0, Austin Senger 1-0-0, Peyton Zabel 11-(-25)-0; PASSING (C-A-YDS-TD-INT): M: Kiel Nelson 0-4-0-0-0; P: Peyton Zabel 14-31-227-2-3; RECEIVING: M: none. P: Spencer Sarringar 6-117-1, Bradley Dean 6-86-1, Zach Fendrich 1-15-0, Austin Senger 1-9-0.

Mitchell's Spencer Neugebauer (8) hurdles over teammate Chris Corbett (67) carrying the ball during a class 11AA state semi-final game against the Pierre Governors on Friday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Mitchell's Spencer Neugebauer (8) hurdles over teammate Chris Corbett (67) carrying the ball during a class 11AA state semi-final game against the Pierre Governors on Friday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade/Republic)

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