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Back on track: Kernels look to rebound against Washington

Mitchell's Austin Kerr (12) carries the ball around the block of Carson Max (33) as Yankton's Miles Carda (2) closes in for the tackle during a game on Friday night at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Had tonight's prep football game between Mitchell High School and Sioux Falls Washington taken place during the opening week of the season, it would have pitted the team favored to win Class 11AA and the team picked to win Class 11AAA. Instead, it features two teams sitting at 1-2 and looking for answers.

The Kernels have given up 61 points in the fourth quarter this year, while the Warriors have not only seen their 35-game winning streak snapped, but have dropped two in a row for the first time since 2014. Washington has won the last three Class 11AAA state titles.

Tackling Tupak

Mitchell enters the game giving up just 72 yards per game on the ground this season—led by linebacker Carson Max, who had 17 tackles last week against Yankton—but the Kernels face their toughest challenge to date in Washington running back Tupak Kpeayeh.

Kpeayeh averaged 180 yards per game last season but has been held to 100 or less in each game thus far in 2018. Stopping him, however, is still the primary goal.

"The key is getting to him and then keeping him where you first make contact with him," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said.

Defending the pass

As strong as Mitchell has been against the run, it has struggled to defend against the pass this season. Washington's starting quarterback Jayden Johannsen missed last week after his appendix was removed, moving sophomore Tyus Hansen into the starting role. Hansen threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns in his first start.

"The biggest priority we've had in our pass defense is trying to reroute receivers instead of giving them a free release or to make a move," VanOverschelde said. "... We've just tried to play it a little more aggressively and try to make it difficult for receivers to get where the quarterback expects them."

Finishing

It's no secret Mitchell has struggled to close games out this season, and until it proves otherwise, that will be a focus.

The Kernels have outscored opponents 47-21 in the first half this season, but have fallen off in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. Washington scored 33 points in a loss to O'Gorman last week, so any lead won't be safe.

"We need to play hard for the full football game—from start to finish, from the first quarter to the last," VanOverschelde said. "It's probably less important to look at what anybody else is doing when we need to focus on and get confidence in what we're doing."

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