MITCHELL — The Huron Tigers played what may be their finest overall game of the season thus far, pulling away with an electric ground game in the second half to defeat the Mitchell Kernels 34-13 in the regular season finale Thursday night, at Joe Quintal Field.
The win pushes the Huron record to 4-5, and earned them the fifth seed in next week’s Class 11AA first round playoff game, a rematch against the Sturgis Scoopers in Sturgis. Mitchell, now 3-6, will face a road game in Pierre on Thursday in the first round of the playoffs.
A game that ended with nearly 50 points on the board didn’t start out that way.
After a clock milking first quarter that saw Huron amass 39 yards on a pair of drives, while Mitchell had one drive that consumed nearly six-and-a-half minutes and gained 72 yards, things picked up quickly in the second quarter.
After riding Tyson Lien for most of the yardage on the ground, quarterback Cade McNeil, returning to the lineup after missing the last two games, hit Jayden Beck in stride for a 44-yard strike. The point-after snap was bobbled and an attempted conversion pass was incomplete, but Huron led 6-0 with less than three minutes gone in the second quarter.
The Kernels, who expressly ran the ball on their first possession, continued that strategy, as junior quarterback Tucker Vilhauer executed the read option to perfection on back-to-back plays - gaining 17 yards on the first play - while the second run went for 48 yards to paydirt. Trenton Regan supplied the PAT and Mitchell took a 7-6 lead at the 8:05 mark.
A short kickoff set Huron up in great field position and a pair of runs by Lien and one from Beck quickly moved the Tigers into Kernel territory. Facing a third-and-9 from the Mitchell 40-yard line, McNeil found Carter Hott on a crossing route, and the senior wideout pinballed off of a couple of Kernel tacklers, tiptoed down the sideline and snuck into the endzone. Min was successful on the PAT and Huron led 13-7.
Mitchell went three-and-out on its next possession and Huron took over in good field position again, marching deep into Kernel territory before the drive stalled. Min attempted a 30-yard field goal that slipped past no good as the first half clock expired.
The Kernels wasted no time in moving the ball to open the second half, as Vilhauer and Parker Phillips ripped off chunks of yardage. Mitchell had the ball second and two from the Tiger six yard line, but a pair of bobbled snaps and some sparkling defense from Huron’s Dylan Lichty and Eh Hser Htoo forced Mitchell to turn the ball over on downs.
Huron took over deep in its own territory, but a pair of Lien runs gained a little breathing room. McNeil was flushed from the pocket and had a lane, but had the ball punched out of his hands and the Kernels recovered at the Huron 30-yard line.
Four plays later, Vilhauer toted the ball the final two yards, and after a blocked extra point, the score was tied at 13.
As they did all night, the Tiger offense struck back. Riding the churning legs of Lien and Beck, Huron moved the ball deep into Mitchell territory. A 12-yard Lien run set Huron up with a first down at the Mitchell 18-yard line. McNeil rolled out and fired a dart to Beck who carried the ball the last two yards for the score. Min’s PAT failed and the score was 19-13, with just over a minute to play in the third quarter.
Needing to get some points, the Kernels fizzled, going four-and-out and turning the ball back over on downs.
Huron took over the ball with just over 11 minutes to play in the game and fed the Kernel defense a solid diet of Lien and Beck and capped the drive with an eight-yard McNeil pass to Max Kranzler. Derick Siemonsma snagged a McNeil conversion pass to make the score 27-16 with just five minutes to play, after the 11-play, 6-minute drive.
Four plays was the duration of the final Kernel drive, as Htoo, Sebastian Cardona and Jonatan Hernandez ganged up on Vilhauer to force a fourth-and-forever play and Hernandez made a sparkling defensive play on the last gasp pass.
Up by two scores, with less than four minutes to play, the Tigers kept the ball on the ground. Taking over on the Mitchell 37-yard line, Lien and Beck toted the ball for a first down, and as the clock rolled past two minutes to play, Lien scored on a 23-yard run, his 28th carry of the game. Min’s PAT made the final score 34-13.
Huron had 413 in offense in the game, 241 on the ground and 172 via the airwaves.
Lien racked up 164 yards on the ground with a touchdown on his 28 carries, as the Tiger offensive line opened gaping holes, particularly in the second half. Beck carried 10 times for 67 yards and had two touchdowns; on receiving and one on the ground. McNeil finished the night 9-for-11 for 172 yards and three scores. Huron had one fumble in the game.
Vilhauer had 146 yards on the ground and threw the ball for 11 yards, as the Tiger defense controlled Phillips, who came in as the leading rusher for the Kernels.
The playoff game in Sturgis will be a rematch of a game that Huron lost to the Scoopers, 21-19, on Sept. 25. Sturgis pounded Spearfish on Thursday to solidify its home playoff game.
Score by quarters
Huron 0 13 6 15 — 34
Mitchell 0 7 6 0 — 13
Huron — 9:13 — Jayden Beck, 44-yard pass from Cade McNeil. Conversion pass failed.
Mitchell — 8:05 — Tucker Vilhauer, 48-yard run. Trenton Regan PAT.
Huron — 5:44 — Carter Hott, 40-yard pass from McNeil. Aung Min PAT.
Mitchell — 5:19 — Vilhauer, 2-yard run. PAT blocked.
Huron — 1:17 — Beck, 18-yard run. PAT failed.
Huron — 5:06 — Max Kranzler, 8-yard pass from McNeil. Derick Siemonsma conversion pass from McNeil.
Huron — 1:56 — Tyson Lien, 23-yard run. Min PAT