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Perfect ending: Kernels cap dream season with win over Harrisburg

VERMILLION--Mitchell history, decades in the making. It was a victorious ending for the Mitchell High School football team, as it won the school's first-ever playoff-era state championship by exploding for 28 points in the second half and earning...

Mitchell's Spencer Mohr (55) hugs Mitchell's Kyle Foote (32) in the finals seconds of the Class 11AA state championship game on Friday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Mitchell's Spencer Mohr (55) hugs Mitchell's Kyle Foote (32) in the finals seconds of the Class 11AA state championship game on Friday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Matt Gade/Republic)

VERMILLION-Mitchell history, decades in the making.

It was a victorious ending for the Mitchell High School football team, as it won the school's first-ever playoff-era state championship by exploding for 28 points in the second half and earning a 41-6 win over the Harrisburg Tigers in the Class 11AA title game Friday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

Mitchell (11-1) scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to bust the game open and the defense forced four Tiger turnovers in the contest.

The win avenged Mitchell's lone loss to Harrisburg in the first game of the season and it's the first state high school football championship for Mitchell since 1971.

"We remained tough, we stayed with it and we showed that resiliency that has become a mark of this football program," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said after the game.

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And in the second half, the Kernels did what they do best: run the football. Mitchell rushed for a Class 11AA title game record 406 yards, breaking Sioux Falls O'Gorman's record of 361 set in 2005.

"We just executed," said Neugebauer, who was named the Joe Robbie MVP and finished the game with 24 carries for 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns. "Carson Max looked me right in the eye and said, 'Patience, my man.' That's what we had to have was patience in that second half."

The offensive eruption began on Mitchell's first drive of the second half. Cody Reichelt hauled in a one-handed, 28-yard pass from Kiel Nelson in the corner of the end zone to put Mitchell up 20-6.

"We remembered the last time we played them, they whooped our butts in the second half and we didn't want that to happen again," Nelson said. "We came out full speed and it worked. Cody made a great catch on that play and we needed it."

Mitchell forced a Harrisburg punt and scored four plays later on a 40-yard touchdown run by Neugebauer, who set a Class 11AA title game record with 236 rushing yards, breaking Sioux Falls Roosevelt's David Sturdevant's record of 233 set in 2007.

The Tigers marched down into Kernel territory, but the drive ended when Jed Schmidt intercepted Harrisburg quarterback Hunter Headlee. On the next play, Neugebauer broke loose for an 83-yard touchdown that put the Kernels up 34-6.

"They played a little more aggressive on the line of scrimmage," Harrisburg head coach Brandon White said. "That's a good football team. They're physical, they have good backs and they do what they do well and they keep going to it."

Nelson delivered a final blow to the Tigers with 8 minutes, 7 seconds left in the fourth quarter on a 90-yard touchdown run. The sophomore quarterback's run set a Class 11AA title game record for longest touchdown run.

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"I told him before the football game he's not a sophomore, he's a varsity football player," VanOverschelde said. "He was ready for this stage and he's proven he's willing to do whatever it takes."

Nelson ran for 124 yards on four carries and Mitchell had 434 yards of total offense, with 406 coming on the ground.

The Kernel defense was feisty from the opening possession, as Sam Michels recorded the game's first turnover-intercepting a Headlee pass to give the Kernels the ball in strong field position. Mitchell capitalized on the turnover with a Seth Paulson 32-yard field goal and held a 3-0 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

After stuffing Harrisburg on fourth down and short midway through the second quarter. Neugebauer scored on a seven-yard touchdown, with the Kernels taking advantage of a short field.

Harrisburg finally broke through on a blocked punt by Michael Curry. Curry ended up picking the bouncing ball at the one-yard line and fell into the end zone for the Tigers' first touchdown. A bobbled snap led to a missed extra point and made the score 10-6.

The Eastern South Dakota Conference foes exchanged interceptions late in the second quarter as Nelson's pass was picked by Cole Teigen. The next play, Neugebauer intercepted a Headlee pass and looked like he was going to find the end zone but was stopped on a touchdown-saving tackle by Jack Anderson.

Four plays later, Paulson, who became the school's all-time points leader, hit his second field from 25 yards to make the halftime score 13-6.

"We just came back with some fire," senior offensive lineman Spencer Mohr said. "We opened things up in the second half."

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For Harrisburg, Curry and Logan Warzecha led the defense with 12 tackles each, while Headlee finished the game with 46 rushing yards and Anderson chipped 42. Headlee went 3-of-13 passing for 76 yards and had four interceptions.

NOTES: Mitchell offensive lineman Alex Klingaman was named the game's most outstanding lineman, while Neugebauer took home the most outstanding back and Joe Robbie MVP honors. ... The Kernels will have a welcome home celebration at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. ... The news of the victory spread quickly, with local sports legends Chad Greenway and Mike Miller offering their congratulations on Twitter.

H 0 6 0 0 -6

M 3 10 21 7 -41

Scoring summary

First quarter

M: Seth Paulson 32 field goal

Second quarter

M: Spencer Neugebauer 7 run (Paulson kick)

H: Michael Curry blocked punt touchdown (kick failed)

M: Paulson 25 field goal

Third quarter

M: Cody Reichelt 28 pass from Kiel Nelson (Paulson kick)

M: Neugebauer 40 run (Paulson kick)

M: Neugebauer 83 run (Paulson kick)

Fourth quarter

M: Nelson 90 run (Paulson kick)

RUSHING: M: Spencer Neugebauer 24-236-3, Kiel Nelson 4-128-1, Sam Michels 10-23, Drew Kitchens 5-14, Carson Max 3-10; H: Hunter Headlee 11-46, Jack Anderson 24-42, Jack Rabern 1-26, Curstin Conway 1-0; PASSING: M: Nelson 1-7-28-1-1, H: Headlee 3-13-0-4, Michael Curry 2-2-25; RECEIVING: M: Cody Reichelt 1-28-1; H: Conway 2-28, Justis Clayton 1-29, Jonah Rasmussen 1-29, Rabern 1-15; TACKLES: Max 17, Briggs Havlik 9, Reichelt 8; INTERCEPTIONS: Jed Schmidt 2, Michels 1, Neugebauer 1.

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