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Mitchell football welcomes No. 3 Aberdeen Central for Kernel Bowl showdown

Offensive balance, containing Sam Rohlfs the keys to victory

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Action between the Mitchell Kernels and Spearfish during a game on Friday, August 27, 2021 at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

For the second straight week, Mitchell will face a team who holds the No. 3 ranking in Class 11AA football when it hosts Aberdeen Central in the Kernel Bowl at 6 p.m. Saturday.

This week, though, Mitchell coach Kent VanOverschelde is excited by the prospect of improving on last week’s performance at Pierre, where the Kernels fell, 35-20. In that contest, five turnovers (four fumbles and one interception) doomed Mitchell’s hopes of knocking off then-third-ranked Pierre.

VanOverschelde felt that most of his team’s struggles were self-inflicted and those same miscues were the primary decider, pointing to his defense’s success in forcing Pierre into a one-dimensional approach as a positive.

“I thought when we didn’t get in our own way we did a nice job of executing, and defensively we held Pierre to 32 yards rushing,” VanOverschelde said. “Give credit to their playmakers in the passing game, but if you take away turnovers it’s a different type of football game. Football works in a way that you can give up five turnovers, but you better take five away. We only had one takeaway, so that did not measure up.”

Mitchell has also struggled to limit penalties. In the season-opener against Spearfish, the Kernels were penalized 10 times for 113 yards. VanOverschelde points to holding calls as the most costly for his team, but has emphasized the need to improve technique as to not compromise aggressive blocking.

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“Even with the penalties, it's not so much about what happens but how you react,” VanOverschelde said. “Every time you snap the ball, you have the opportunity to do good things and turn positive plays into more positive plays. Building that momentum will be a goal of ours this week. It’s pretty tough offensively if you’re calling first-and-20 or second-and-15.”

When in possession, Mitchell can be expected to spread the ball around as they’ve done throughout the first two contests. VanOverschelde says “things are falling into place” offensively, as the coaching staff works through ways to get different players involved, find time to rest two-way players and further expand the passing game.

Successfully getting several players involved, both through the air and on the ground, will likely be key as the Kernels face off with an Aberdeen Central defense VanOverschelde describes as “very quick and very physical.”

On the other side of the ball, the Kernels (1-1) will attempt to limit the impact of Aberdeen Central’s quarterback, Sam Rohlfs. Last week, Rohlfs led the Golden Eagles (2-0) to a 40-28 win over then-No. 1 Yankton, accumulating 309 yards passing, 73 yards rushing and five total touchdowns.

“He’s obviously a pretty special athlete,” VanOverschelde said of Rohlfs. “The key is going to be containment. You see him making plays on busted plays and you see him on some designed runs where he just looks like he’s shot out of a cannon. We need to continue to do what we’ve done really well, which is tackle.”

Rohlfs’ top two receivers from last week, Alec Voegele and Jacob Merxbauer, both went over 100 yards and found the endzone. In addition to Rohlfs’ as a dual-threat, Mitchell will also have to contend with the running of Karson Carda, who racked up 137 yards against Yankton.

With the added festivities of the Kernel Bowl, Saturday also brings a different feel to it than many other games, but VanOverschelde believes his team will respond well to the environment. MHS has won the last two Kernel Bowls in big fashion, with a 54-13 win over Spearfish in 2020 and a 56-27 triumph over Douglas in 2019.

“We’re ready for the extra excitement of high school athletics all in one day,” VanOverschelde said. “It’s set up to be different, and our guys will feel that difference, but I have zero doubt we’ll have any concerns by the time that ball is kicked off. Our guys feel like they can play at the top level of Class 11AA football, and playing against Aberdeen Central is an opportunity to prove that."

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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