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Mayer: Kernels stand one win from Mitchell gridiron history

It's already been a season to remember for the Mitchell High School football team. The Kernels--fresh off a 54-18 playoff win over Spearfish--are now one game away from booking a trip to the DakotaDome. Mitchell hasn't played in a state champions...

It's already been a season to remember for the Mitchell High School football team.

The Kernels-fresh off a 54-18 playoff win over Spearfish-are now one game away from booking a trip to the DakotaDome. Mitchell hasn't played in a state championship game since 1993 and the Kernels haven't won a football title in the playoff era (since 1981).

Before looking ahead to Friday's rematch with No. 2 Pierre, it's worth noting how successful this team has been compared to the history of the Kernel football program.

For starters, the Kernels haven't had many winning seasons-only one since 2000 and that was the 2011 team that finished the season 8-3. Before the win over Spearfish, the 2011 team was the last team to win a playoff game.

Comparisons with the 2011 team-that featured twin brothers Jason and Justin Greenway as well as quarterback Brent Havlik-are easy to make with this year's team.

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In 2011, Mitchell upset Sioux Falls Lincoln 50-49 at Joe Quintal Field, and on Oct. 2, the Kernels upset Sioux Falls Lincoln 42-35.

Mitchell was led by its rushing attack in 2011, as the team ended the season with 2,724 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns in 11 games. This year's team has already rushed for 2,780 yards and 38 rushing touchdowns in 10 games.

"We had a pretty close group of guys and it looks like this team does, too," former Mitchell Kernel and current Augustana Viking Jason Greenway said.

The biggest difference between the 2011 Mitchell Kernels and this year's team is what has changed in South Dakota high school football. The 2011 Kernels saw their hopes for a DakotaDome run end in Sioux Falls at the hands of a Sioux Falls Washington team that featured future college football players-Keyen Lage (South Dakota) and Nate Gerry (Nebraska). That was the last year before Class 11AAA was created.

This year, Class 11AA has proven to be one of, if not the most, competitive class in South Dakota high school football. Mitchell may have three losses to Class 11AA schools this season, but the Kernels had some success in each of those games and have proven they can compete with any team in the 11AA field.

"Of the four teams in the (Class) 11AA hunt, the one that wins it is really going to have to earn it," Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "This is the opportunity that we have and I think we are a football team that understands the moment. We've followed the process, now we're looking for an outcome."

Keys to Friday's game

Standing in the Kernels' way of making Mitchell High School football history is the Pierre Governors-who handed Mitchell a disappointing 29-21 defeat back on Oct. 16.

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Pierre did a couple of things well in that game to walk away with the Class 11AA Eastern South Dakota Conference title.

First, the Govs tackled well. Kanin Nelson, Spencer Neugebauer and Sam Michels have broken one or two tackles at the line of scrimmage and busted big runs all season. That didn't happen in Pierre. The Governors found a way to keep Mitchell's rushing attack at bay, despite allowing 249 yards on the ground in the win. How well Mitchell is able to run the ball on Friday night will be big deciding factor in who goes to Vermillion and who stays home.

The second thing Pierre did is they showed off a balanced offensive attack. Brevin Kaiser is as good of a dual threat quarterback there is in South Dakota. Against Mitchell, he finished the game with 11 carries for 139 rushing yards and completed 10 of 20 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. On Friday, Mitchell will look to keep Kaiser from escaping the pocket and racking up yards with his legs.

Thirdly, Pierre did not make many mistakes. The game was mostly clean on both sides, but Mitchell had its fair share of penalties and miscues that loomed large in a game that was decided by one score. On a possession late in the second quarter, the Kernels failed to put points on the board after entering the red zone, only to see Pierre drive the field and kick a field goal as time expired in the first half. Mitchell will need to finish drives with points on Friday and that only happens if mental mistakes are minimized.

In the end, it comes down to trusting the system - the players, coaches and plays - that got the team to this point. If Mitchell plays to its full potential for 48 minutes, there's no reason the Kernels can't party like it's 1993.

VanOverschelde-who will be coaching his biggest game with the Kernels since he took over as the head coach in 2007-said there isn't any doubt that his team will be ready on Friday.

"We have trust and belief in our players and our team," VanOverschelde said. "We're super excited for the opportunity and we appreciate all of the support within our community. There's nothing we'd like to do more than extend our season one more game."

Related Topics: KERNELSPIERREFOOTBALL
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