Kernels attempt to move past recent fourth-quarter flubs
Mitchell High School is a few plays away from being atop the Class 11AA standings. Instead the Kernels are .500 and stay in position to host a first-round playoff game.
After starting the season 3-0, Class 11AA No. 4 Mitchell has lost three in a row. But in each of those three losses, the Kernels have held in a lead in the fourth quarter. The outcome was decided on the final play against Dell Rapids and Yankton, but Mitchell unraveled in the final quarter against Class 11AA No. 2 Brookings on Friday, surrendering 20 consecutive points in a 44-25 loss.
So, the Kernels are fourth in the standings at 3-3 heading into a game against Sturgis for the second year in a row, but the circumstances have changed this time. Last season, they were coming off a 41-7 blowout against Brookings and a tilt with a then-unstoppable Pierre squad was looming the following week.
Despite three consecutive losses, Mitchell’s dreams of reaching the DakotaDome are still intact as head coach Kent Van Overschelde believes it is a matter of having confidence to finish close games against quality opponents.
“It’s going to be hard and we have to understand that it’s going to be hard,” Van Overschelde said. “We have to continue to work and stay together to focus on the process so we can be more satisfied with the outcome.”
Dropping close games is not a new occurrence for the Kernels, who have lost eight of nine contests decided by one possession since 2017. Meanwhile, seven of those losses also came after holding a lead in the second half and six after holding a lead in the fourth quarter dating back to 2018.
Not only being competitive, but leading late in those games leads Van Overschelde to believe Mitchell’s recent shortcomings are rooted in a lack of confidence rather than physical ability. In two of three losses this season, the Kernels also racked up more total yards than their opponent.
“We have to find that next level of play, have some success and build on that,” Van Overschelde said. “I have a lot of confidence in where we’re at and where we’re going.”
Mitchell must find its confidence quickly to avoid a repeat of last season, when it lost three of its last four regular season games and a chance for a home playoff game in the process. With the loss to Brookings, the Kernels have dropped to 5-11 in games during October and November since 2017.
They have reason to believe this year is different, though, as a clear-cut favorite in Class 11AA has yet to be revealed. The final two unbeatens, Brookings and Yankton, play in the final week of the season, but no team has been dominant like Pierre was a year ago.
Should Mitchell find a way to get back on track, playing close games against Yankton and Brookings could give the Kernels confidence in a potential playoff rematch, as opposed to traveling to Pierre in the semifinals last year, three weeks removed from a 75-7 loss.
“We know it’s just a couple plays away from being 6-0,” Mitchell lineman Nick Rubendall said. “We just have to continue to work and not give up on this team. We know where we’re at and I don’t think we will give up. I think we’re going to continue to work and get better.”