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Kernels believing before rematch

Why not us? Believe. Those words were posted on the fence facing the Joe Quintal south field where the Mitchell High School football team practices every day. The words were a constant reminder for the No. 3-seeded Mitchell Kernels (7-3) as they ...

Why not us? Believe.

Those words were posted on the fence facing the Joe Quintal south field where the Mitchell High School football team practices every day.

The words were a constant reminder for the No. 3-seeded Mitchell Kernels (7-3) as they face the No. 2 seed Pierre Governors (8-2) in Class 11AA semifinal game at 7 p.m. tonight at Hollister Field in Pierre.

Reaching this stage of the postseason didn't happen by "accident," Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said.

"This team and coaching staff has worked hard to get to this point," VanOverschelde said. "When you work towards a goal for so long and then you have it this close, all you can do is continuously put in the effort, prepare to the best of your ability and go play the game."

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Both teams are coming off blowout first-round playoff wins. Mitchell trounced Spearfish 54-18 and Pierre drubbed Douglas 47-0 last week.

Only three weeks ago, Pierre handed Mitchell its only loss in the past eight games. The Governors pulled out a 29-21 win over the Kernels that clinched the Eastern South Dakota Conference title for Pierre and according to VanOverschelde, gave Mitchell something to learn from.

"That was definitely a loss that we took a step forward from," he said. "(We learned) the level of play that we have to compete at and the level of intensity and execution. I had no question of our effort, but sometimes you have to make your own breaks. We understand the significance of this football game."

Pierre was able to slow down Mitchell's high-powered offense by stuffing the Kernel rushing attack early in the game and that's something Pierre head coach Jayson Poppinga said his team will look to to do again.

"We are going to have to control the line of scrimmage and hold their big playmakers to 150 to 200 yards of rushing instead of the 400-500 yards they've been racking up," Pierre head coach Jayson said Poppinga, whose Governors held Mitchell to 249 yards rushing in the Oct. 16 matchup. "You have to be able to tackle and tackle in space. We realize Mitchell has the ability to put a lot of points on the board in a really fast, short amount of time."

Mitchell has rushed for 2,780 yards and have scored 38 touchdowns on the ground this season. But against Pierre, VanOverschelde said Mitchell's offense was just a bit off.

"We have to make sure our timing is on. We didn't have the timing and execution that we wanted and that's something we want to improve upon this time around," VanOverschelde said. "We want to run the football and they did a great job of making adjustments that we can be prepared for this time around."

Junior running back Spencer Neugebauer has 1,108 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns, while adding 13 catches for 192 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Senior quarterback Kanin Nelson also has more than 1,000 rushing yards as the future Jackrabbit has racked up 1,029 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.

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"We can't turn the ball over and we need to be mentally and physically ready for the game," said Nelson, who is 45-of-108 passing for 589 yards and four touchdowns. "They are going to come at us and we have to have that sense of urgency to knock them down first."

The Governors kept Mitchell's playmakers from making big plays-plays of 20 yards or more-throughout the first contest and Poppinga said that'll be Pierre's biggest key defensively. Mitchell didn't have any scoring plays more than 20 yards against Pierre and only averaged 4.9 yards per play compared to Pierre's 9.5 yards per play.

"The team that can minimize those big plays will come out on top," Poppinga said. "Who can minimize their penalties and who can prevent turnovers and momentum swings."

Defensively, Mitchell will be looking to slow down Pierre's big-play capability. The Governors scored on long rushing touchdowns of 44 and 33 yards, as well as a 30-yard touchdown through the air in the Oct. 16 win

"We're trying to take what's given to us and get our playmakers the ball," Poppinga said. "We feel that we are really balanced and can play sound football by guys doing their job."

The Pierre offense is directed through senior quarterback Brevin Kaiser, who beat the Kernels with both his arm and legs the first time the teams met. Kaiser finished the game with 11 carries for 139 rushing yards and completed 10 of 20 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown.

"I think you have to contain Brevin Kaiser, you have to find a way," VanOverschelde said. "They have multiple weapons and do so many things really well. We have to play solid defensively and I think the key is to play fundamentally sound defense but also play aggressive and play tough."

Pierre running back Seth Neal had a big game against the Kernels, as well, finishing with nine carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

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"We gave second and third opportunities to them and they turned them into real positive plays," VanOverschelde said. "We have to avoid giving those extra opportunities and rally to the football."

Having played against each other less than a month ago, both coaches said the game won't be about X's and O's but which team can execute better.

"There are no secrets when you hit the playoffs and it's about your playmakers making plays," VanOverschelde said. "We need to compete at a high level, get a break and take advantage of it."

For Mitchell, today's game is one of the biggest in program history as the Kernels have been in a state football championship game since 1993.

"It's a big opportunity to turn Mitchell football around and have a chance to play in the Dome," Nelson said. "It's been one game at a time all season and we've done the best we can each game. You never know when your last play will be for us seniors, so you try make every play your best."

When/Where: 7 p.m. today at Hollister Field in Pierre.

Last meeting: Pierre defeated Mitchell 29-21 on Oct. 16, 2015 in Pierre.

Coaches: Mitchell's Kent VanOverschelde, ninth year; Pierre's Jayson Poppinga, third year.

Forecast: 38 degrees and clear with west winds at 9 mph.

Notes: This is Mitchell's first semifinal appearance since 1993, when the Kernels defeated Huron for a championship berth ...The two teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the final South Dakota Sportswriters' Poll of the season, with the Governors ranked ahead of the Kernels. ... Mitchell is averaging 31.9 points, 278 rushing yards and 61 passing yards per game. ... The Kernels will be without starting wide receiver Reed Overweg, who is out with an injury. ... Mitchell is coming off a 54-18 win over Spearfish in the first round of the Class 11AA playoffs, while Pierre defeated Douglas 47-0. ... The winner will face either Yankton or Harrisburg in the Class 11AA state championship game at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 13 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

Mitchell projected starters

(Position, name, year, height, weight)

Offense

QB: Kanin Nelson, 12, 6-4, 210

RB: Spencer Neugebauer, 11, 6-1, 180

FB: Jet-Li Heng, 12, 5-10, 200

RB: Sam Michels, 11, 6-0, 160

TE: Cody Reichelt, 11, 6-1, 180

TE: Connor Morgan, 12, 6-3, 190

RT: Spencer Mohr, 11, 6-3, 230

RG: Zeb Parsons, 11, 5-9, 220

C: Alex Klingaman, 11, 6-0, 195

LG: Bryce Geraets, 11, 6-2, 240

LT: Chris Corbett, 11, 6-3, 299

Defense

DE: Logan Rietveld, 11, 5-9, 190
DE: Jet-Li Heng, 12, 5-10, 200

DT: Bryce Geraets, 11, 6-2, 240

DT: Spencer Mohr, 11, 6-3, 230

LB: Austin Getty, 12, 5-7, 165

LB: Cody Reichelt, 11, 6-1, 180

OLB: Spencer Neugebauer, 11, 6-1, 180

OLB: Brandon Krogman, 12, 6-0, 165

S: Connor Morgan, 12, 6-3, 190

CB: Jordan Dirkes, 10, 5-9, 150

CB: Sam Michels, 11, 6-0, 160

Special teams

K/P: Kanin Nelson, 12, 6-4, 210

Holder: Kiel Nelson, 9, 6-0, 155

Long snapper: Spencer Mohr, 11, 6-3, 230

Pierre projected starters

(Position, name, year, height, weight)

Offense

QB: Brevin Kaiser, 12, 6-4, 200

RB: Seth Neal, 12, 5-11, 195

RB: Layne Hohn, 12, 6-1, 215

WR: Erin Severyn, 12, 5-11, 155

WR: Zach Strand, 12, 6-2, 205

WR: Pete Sanchez, 12, 6-0, 175

T: Max Reinke, 12, 6-2, 300

T: Austin Kelly, 12, 6-2, 235

C: Caelan Fergal, 12, 5-10, 240

G: Levi Stoltenberg, 11, 6-0, 235

G: MarkJay Gutierrez, 12, 5-9, 220

Defense

DT: Max Reinke, 12, 5-2, 300

DT: Austin Kelly, 12, 6-2, 235

DE: Seth Neal, 12, 5-11, 195

DE: Spencer Heilman, 12, 6-1, 185

LB: Nick Weibe, 12, 5-11, 175

LB: Isaih Watson, 12, 6-0, 180

LB: Layne Hohn, 12, 6-1, 215

CB: Warrant Garreau, 11, 5-8, 165

CB: Erin Severyn, 12, 5-11, 155

S: Brevin Kaiser, 12, 6-4, 200

S: Zach Strand, 12, 6-2, 205

Special teams

K: Pete Sanchez, 12, 6-0, 175

P: Brevin Kaiser, 12, 6-4, 200

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