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Kernels excited for second shot at Tigers

The second time's the charm. At least that's how the Mitchell High School football felt about facing the Harrisburg Tigers in the Class 11AA state championship game moments after Friday's 52-14 semifinal win over Pierre. While the players and coa...

Mitchell's Gregory Guthrie (52) closes in for a tackle on Harrisburg's Hunter Headlee (12) during an Aug. 27 Eastern South Dakota Conference football game at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Mitchell's Gregory Guthrie (52) closes in for a tackle on Harrisburg's Hunter Headlee (12) during an Aug. 27 Eastern South Dakota Conference football game at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade/Republic)

The second time's the charm.

At least that's how the Mitchell High School football felt about facing the Harrisburg Tigers in the Class 11AA state championship game moments after Friday's 52-14 semifinal win over Pierre.

While the players and coaches celebrated after earning Mitchell's first state title game appearance in 23 years, they were also aware of the final hurdle in front of them.

To achieve the school's first-ever playoff era (since 1981) state championship, the Kernels will have to beat the team that handed them their only loss of the season. Harrisburg rallied past Mitchell 27-10 in both teams' first game of the season on Aug. 27 in the Kernel Bowl.

"We knew we had to take care of business to get another shot at them," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said after Friday's semifinal win. "The focus turns to Harrisburg. They're going to be ready for us."

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In the Kernel Bowl showdown, Mitchell dominated the first half and took a 10-0 lead into halftime. The second half was a different story as Harrisburg scored 27 unanswered points on the Kernels, who had multiple starters miss the second half due to leg cramps. Since the Harrisburg loss, Mitchell hasn't had many starters miss any minutes this season.

"We are going to have to take good care of ourselves throughout this week," VanOverschelde said. "We'll have to try prepare for the heat of the inside game and avoid some of the problems we had earlier."

A lot has changed for both teams since Aug. 27. Mitchell (10-1) enters the state championship game as the top seed in Class 11AA and riding a 10-game winning streak, while Harrisburg (9-2) is on a six-game winning streak and haven't lost to Class 11AA team this season. The Tigers two losses came against Class 11AAA foes Sioux Falls Roosevelt (41-21) and Brandon Valley (35-14).

"I'm not a coach, but I'm guessing we'll pound the ball with Spencer (Neugebauer) and our offensive line will have to work because they're good up front too," senior safety Jed Schmidt said on Friday. "They have some playmakers on offense that we'll focus on and try to shut down."

After Friday's semifinal victory both coaches and players agreed they'd enjoy one of the school's biggest wins in recent memory over the weekend, but would shift back-to-work-mode on Monday in preparation for achieving a state championship.

"The community knows what's going on and they have our back," said Neugebauer, who rushed for a school record 325 yards on Friday. "We're going down to Vermillion and we're going to play."

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