Jockeying for playoff position
With only two regular season football games left on the schedule, the playoff picture is beginning to come into focus. For Mitchell High School, the importance of the final two games of the season are paramount.
After Friday's 42-14 loss to Class 11AA No. 1 Pierre, the Kernels sit in fifth place in the seed point standings heading into this week's game against Harrisburg. Mitchell is in must-win mode against Harrisburg in order to have a crack at a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
A loss to the No. 3 Tigers erases any opportunity for a first round game to played at Joe Quintal Field, and the Kernels are not oblivious to that reality.
"There's just a simple reality of that," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "For us, it's always a goal to finish as high as we can to put ourselves in position to have a home playoff game. Everything here is right in front of us against a common opponent. They're working for the same thing we are."
Aside from Pierre, which appears to have a firm grasp on the top seed, Class 11AA is still jumbled, with Harrisburg and Yankton sitting with 4-3 records, while Mitchell, Brookings and Huron are all 3-4. At 2-5, even Sturgis and Spearfish still have an outside chance to move up in the standings.
If the Kernels win their final two games, they would likely finish in the top four and earn a home playoff game, with a slim possibility of finishing as high as No. 2. With potential first round opponents such as Harrisburg, Yankton, Huron or Brookings, Mitchell wants the home field advantage.
"It's significant—especially in the first round—to have that home crowd, because nothing matters after that," VanOverschelde said. "If you're not successful, you're done. So having that home field is something that you work for and strive for and something our guys have obviously worked for."
The significance of beating Harrisburg on Friday goes beyond the potential advantages of playing a playoff game at home for Mitchell's seniors.
Should the Kernels lose on Friday, 25 seniors—which occupy all 11 starting jobs on offense and seven on defense—won't have another opportunity to play at Joe Quintal Field and that is something they are desperately trying to avoid.
Many of those seniors have played in playoff games, while some played in a state championship game, including quarterback Kiel Nelson, who ranks this week as one of the biggest games of his career.
"We're pretty much all seniors out there and for most of us, it's been two years coming," Nelson said. "We're getting to the end of our senior year. I would say this is the most important game of the season."
After a seesaw season, Mitchell believes it has a chance to make up for some lost opportunities earlier in the year with a win over a Harrisburg team that put an end to its 2017 campaign as well.
"It's up and down throughout the season, but we've been working hard and we're starting to come together," MHS senior Drew Kitchens said. "We're just going to go out there and work hard. That's all you can really ask for."