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Run-first Kernels not worried about passing attack

Mitchell's Kiel Nelson, right, throws a pass as Lane Jorgensen, center, blocks Yankton's Ian Russaw, left, during a high school football game on Friday in Freeman. (Eric Mayer / Republic)

If it's not broke, don't fix it.

That's the easy way to look at the Mitchell High School football team's offense, which has averaged 25 points per game and helped the team start the season 3-0. The No. 2 Kernels have rushed for 801 yards, an average of 267 per game, and scored eight touchdowns on the ground.

It's no secret Mitchell's success depends on running the football, but the team's passing statistics leave much to be desired. This season, the Kernels have completed 8-of-26 pass attempts for 110 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Kiel Nelson is 7-of-25 for 89 yards and responsible for the touchdowns and lone interception, while fullback Carson Max has completed one pass for 21 yards.

"The success that we have had in the passing game is due to our ability to run the football," MHS coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "Honestly, a lot of it is just adjusting our routes. In that 8-of-26 (passing), there's only handful of drops and we've been working on adjusting our routes."

Lacking for the Kernels' passing attack has been a go-to wide receiver. Koby Larson leads the team with three catches for 67 yards, while Jordan Dirkes has one catch for 15 yards and a touchdown and Tate Larson has one catch for 13 yards. Drew Kitchens, Max Schoenfelder and Max each have one catch for five yards.

"Our timing has been off a little bit and we need to improve on our route running," Dirkes said. "The passing game will come with the harder we work on our releases and our routes. It'll come together."

Working on getting off the line on the snap is something VanOverschelde also pointed to as area in which Mitchell's receivers could improve.

"I'd like to have that balance, that's something we have to continually improve on," VanOverschelde said. "One thing that we have had is protection. That's a plus, but we have to find a system that gets guys open and use that as part of our offense."

Tate Larson, who at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds is the Kernels' tallest receiving threat, said Mitchell's passing attack will continue to grow with each game.

"Right now, we are able to run the ball plenty," Larson said. "Throwing the ball isn't a huge factor right now. We are a run-based offense and if we can do that, that's what we are going to do. From there, we can add on with the pass game."

And if the ball isn't going to be thrown their way a lot, the receiving corps sees downfield blocking as its most important role.

"That's one thing we've sold these guys on. If they want to be on the field, they better be able to block," VanOverschelde said. "We just need to find that combination."

The Class 11AA No. 2-ranked Kernels will host Class 11AAA No. 1 Sioux Falls Washington at 7 p.m. Friday.