Sep. 8—MITCHELL — Offensively, the Mitchell High School football team was almost unrecognizable — in a positive way.
While the Kernels produced the longest play from scrimmage in their season-opening defeat to Yankton, the offense's performance was otherwise a bit inauspicious. But in Saturday's Kernel Bowl victory over Sturgis, that same offense moved the ball with a great deal of success in a much-needed confidence-boosting performance.
Against Yankton on Aug. 26, the final box score read that Mitchell had gained 160 total yards, but that was somewhat of a misrepresentation. Approximately 50 of those yards came in the fourth quarter after both teams had removed their starters from the game. An additional 63 yards came on the longest play of the game, a pass from Treyson Schulz to Mick Dailey. Outside of that long strike, Mitchell had just one play go for more than 7 yards.
By contrast, Mitchell nearly matched the first game yardage total just through the air against Sturgis, passing for 142 yards with 256 rushing yards for a total of 398 — more than double the previous week. Additionally, the 36 points scored were Mitchell's most in nearly two full seasons, since the 2020 Kernel Bowl win over Spearfish (54-13).
A number of factors played into the significant change in production — not the least of which was opposition, with Yankton ranked No. 3 and Sturgis a distant No. 5 at the time of the games — but perhaps chief among them was the heightened level of play at an individual level and the purposeful emphasis of a specific formation.
Referred to as "Flex" within the Mitchell program, the formation bears many similarities to the double wing, but with receivers standing up a couple of yards off either end of the line of scrimmage instead of tight ends book-ending the offensive line.
"With Flex, you're basically talking about the tight ends. It's not a double-tight (end), double-wing-type of offense," explained coach Kent Van Overschelde. "It just gives you a little more space and opens up some things in the passing game with play-action with eight or nine guys in the box (on defense). In my opinion, it's tough to defend. It gives you some angles with speed because you're basically walling off the defense and hoping you can find a way through it."
According to offensive coordinator Eric Witte, much of the Flex formation playbook had been implemented into the greater Kernel playbook prior to the season, but it wasn't a go-to option. After the limited success against the Bucks, a shift had to be made, and the Mitchell coaching staff, including Witte and staff newcomer Corey Flatten, who brought several Flex concepts with him from his time as the head coach of Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central, decided to give Flex its shine.
Leaning heavily on the formation, the Kernel offense executed with aplomb and in doing so, moved several Flex plays and concepts toward the top of Witte's play sheet.
"I think we definitely found something," said Dailey, Mitchell's junior running back who ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and passed for a pair of scores against Sturgis. "It boosted our confidence, we found our plays and the way we want to play all year. It's awesome."
"We got into it a little bit last week (against Yankton) but didn't make it a focal point," Witte said. "We decided to change it up and it worked for the better. ... Obviously, with the success we had (against Sturgis), we'd be foolish not to continue to make it a part of what we're doing. You saw tonight, when we got it moving, it's a chance to get a lot of our pieces involved, and then our guys made a lot of plays. It makes a big difference."
It wasn't just Dailey who had a big night against the Scoopers. Schulz led the Kernels in passing and rushing with 115 and 82 yards, respectively, in those categories. Jagger Tyler got involved on the ground and through the air, rushing for 51 yards and catching a 31-yard pass, while Lukas Bennett carried the ball twice for 26 yards and Bryce Palmer figures to be a key part of the mix moving forward, as well.
Undoubtedly, the best example of how Mitchell wants to play on offense was the opening drive of the second half. A methodical 17-play, 78-yard march down the field took 9 minutes and 37 seconds off the clock. Further, five different Kernels got touches on the drive, with four of the five getting multiple. If Mitchell can find a way to duplicate the elements of that sequence — Schulz's composure, playmakers like Dailey, Tyler and Bennett making the defense respect multiple options and the offensive line getting several big pushes up front — it will serve the Kernels well.
Now that Mitchell has had offensive success, it's about sustaining it and attempting to expand on it through a grueling part of the schedule. The Kernels are on the road for two straight weeks, the first of which is Saturday at Class 11AA No. 1 Pierre. When they return to Joe Quintal Field, it's against current Class 11AAA No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson, which underscored the importance of establishing a foundation on which to build.
"You have to find your identity, find what you're good at," Van Overschelde said. "We're going to play the best teams in our class and probably the best team in 11AAA, so we have to find a way to give ourselves an advantage.
"The next step I'd like to see is just a continuation," the coach continued. "You get to a point and you want to move along too fast, so before we look too far ahead, we have to make sure we're focused. The next step is the mental part because physically we did a nice job."