Clash in the capital
With three more football games remaining in the regular season, the playoff picture is going to be become more clear. For Mitchell High School, the path to the playoffs includes a stop at Class 11AA No. 1 Pierre, which has separated itself from the pack, with just one loss on the season.
The Kernels have won two in a row, and after last week's 28-13 win over Huron, they are back in the South Dakota Prep Media polls at No. 4, after a two-week hiatus.
Breaking up the logjam
Mitchell enters Friday as one of five Class 11AA teams with a 3-3 record. The Kernels hold wins over two of those teams—Brookings and Huron—and have yet to face Harrisburg.
A win over the current favorite, Pierre, would do wonders for Mitchell's odds of finishing in the top four of the standings, which would guarantee a home game in the first round of the playoffs. A win over the Governors also keeps a chance for the top seed in the playoffs in play, despite Pierre having a two-game lead in the standings.
"Our goal is to finish in that top half you start off the playoffs with home game, but we're just looking at the Governors," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "To look anything past that is probably unproductive."
After only scoring 14 points in a season-opening loss to Harrisburg, Pierre has averaged nearly 39 points per game and has outscored opponents by 33 points per game during its five-game winning streak.
The Governors' high-powered offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Garrett Stout, who has been proficient passing and running this season. Stout has completed 63 percent of his passes for 729 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, while also rushing for a team-high 468 yards and four touchdowns.
Mitchell has struggled against prolific passing offenses this season, so keeping Stout at bay is the top priority for the Kernel defense.
"Their quarterback just makes plays all over the field," VanOverschelde said. "We're just going to have to do a good job of containing him and matching them from a physical standpoint."
Slowing down the rush
While Stout powers an explosive offense, Pierre also has an aggressive defense that has allowed 14 points in the last four games, led by a unit that has recorded 41 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks this season.
Not only will Mitchell's offensive line have to protect quarterback Kiel Nelson, but also hold its blocks in the running game for Drew Kitchens and Carson Max, who have combined to run for 551 yards and nine touchdowns during the last two weeks.
"It's just a come-after-it, gap-control type of defense and they play it very well," VanOverschelde said. "...The key will be having positive plays—just keep trying to move the football. ... I don't think there's any secret what our game plan is and there's is pretty straightforward as well."