STURGIS — Mitchell running back Nick Robinson scored on an 11-yard touchdown run with 15.1 seconds remaining to lift the Kernels to a 35-28 win over Sturgis on Thursday in the Class 11AA quarterfinals at Woodle Field.
Robinson’s run came moments after Mitchell turned the ball over on downs deep in Scooper territory, only to get the ball back a play later when Sturgis running back Trevor Erlenbusch was stripped of the ball.
“We told the kids, ‘Everyone needs to try and strip the football, try to make a play,’” Mitchell head coach Kent Van Overschlde said. “We’ve had a rough end to the season, so it was nice to see our guys turn the page and have some success.”
The Kernels took over at the Scooper 29-yard line, and Van Overschlde handed the ball to Robinson three straight times. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound running back found daylight on all three plays, and he finished the game-winning drive by scoring from 11 yards out.
“Our o-line made a really big hole for me,” said Robinson, who also scored on runs of 1 and 7 yards earlier in the game. “I just hit it as hard as I could and kept running.”
Sturgis got only one offensive play off before the final horn sounded, ending its season on a heart-breaking note.
“Endings are always hard,” Scooper head coach Chris Koletzky said. “And they should be because we all put the effort, the time and the passion into it. It’s tough, but that when you know you put everything into it.”
Sturgis scored on its first two possessions and found itself up 20-7 after Talon Elshere stripped Mitchell quarterback Austin Kerr of the football. Scooper defensive end Sanden Graham scooped up the pigskin and ran 37 yards for a touchdown to push Sturgis up 20-7.
Kerr came right back the next time the Kernels snapped the ball and hit Ryley Johansen with a perfect ball that resulted in the 57-yard touchdown.
Mitchell forced a rare punt from the Scoopers and promptly went down the field. Robinson capped the drive with a 7-yard TD run to give the Kernels their first lead at 21-20.
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Van Overschlde’s club built its lead to 28-20 by taking the opening drive of the third quarter 61 yards for a score. Parker Phillips went up the middle, broke right and went 43 yards for a touchdown.
“When you’re down 20-7, you know you need a score, you got to score one at a time,” Van Overschlde said of his team’s 21-unanswered points. “Our guys found a way to make plays. Give credit to Austin and to our offensive line; they overcame some adversity.”
Sturgis answered back with a touchdown on its first possession of the second half. Justin Burnham capped an 11-play, 73-yard drive with a sweep around left end and scampered in from 9 yards out. The Scoopers deadlocked the game when Josh Fowler zipped in for the 2-point conversion.
The Scoopers then produced two big turnovers late in the game with the Kernels driving.
The first came when Fowler recovered a fumble by Phillips at the Scooper 3-yard line. Sturgis drove the ball into Mitchell territory, but Kernel lineman Ben Ziebarth knocked down Zach Schoun’s pass.
After taking possession at its 30, Mitchell drove to the Sturgis 24, but turned the ball over on downs when Kerr was stopped on a quarterback keeper.
With 1:28 remaining, Erlenbusch was fighting for extra yardage neat the Mitchell 30 when the ball popped loose and Robinson, who plays linebacker on defense, fell on the ball. Four plays later, Robinson zipped in with the game-winning score.
“They were grinding and grinding, and we knew we needed a stop,” Koletzky said. “You just have to send everybody and hope something works out.”
Daylen Rhodes, who finished with 67 yards from six carries, led a Scooper rushing attack that totaled 219 yards. Shoun, Sturgis’ senior quarterback, completed 10 of 13 throws for 145 yards and a touchdown. Graham caught three passes for 57 yards.
Mitchell finished with 384 yards of total offense. Kerr finished 6 of 9 passing for 135 yards and one interception. Phillips rushed 13 times for 117 yards. Johansen, who came up with big catches in big moments for the Kernels, had four catches for 103 yards for the game.
The Kernels (5-5) advance to the Class 11AA semifinals where they will face unbeaten and No. 1-seeded Pierre (10-0) on Friday, Nov. 8. Sturgis closes the season at 4-6.