NEW PALESTINE — Fridays always start early for New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph. Game day by definition begins long before the opening kickoff as final reviews of the game plan are conducted and every detail is combed through multiple times over.
But nothing like this week.
Picked as a landing spot by WTHR-13 Sunrise for the TV station’s high school football kickoff spotlight, the alarm clock will buzz a little earlier than usual.
“While that’s outstanding, I now have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I’ll probably be a little bit tired,” Ralph laughed. “Really though, it’s really an honor. It seems like a really cool thing.
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“To be picked for their Week 2 game this early in the season, I think speaks a lot, not only for the kids and the program they’ve created here, but a lot about our community support. I know they’ll show out in droves.”
With a large crowd expected for Friday night’s home-opener at Kelso Stadium against Richmond, the top-ranked Class 5A Dragons are on Ralph time entering the 2015 season’s second week.
Undefeated at home since coach Ralph arrived in 2013, the primary goal is to jump out early and fast in order to extend their home winning streak to 13 consecutive. The program’s current overall regular-season run stands at 19 straight. The all-time school record is 21, which was set over three seasons in 1983-85.
“The focus is always to protect your own house. You never want to lose at home. Away games are hard to play in, but at home you should have the advantage,” Ralph said. “Our kids thrive on that.”
Last week, the team excelled with a decisive 56-14 win against 3A Lawrenceburg.
The offense needed less than 15 minutes to score on seven of its first eight possessions. Four touchdown drives took less than a minute to complete and the Dragons totaled 368 yards in offense overall.
As predictable as their production seemed, it materialized because of their adaptability. Targeted as the biggest game on everyone’s schedule this season, Lawrenceburg tried to catch the Dragons offguard.
It’s a theme Ralph expects to see the next eight weeks.
“We told them, teams are going to try different things to try to slow us down, to slow our offense down and keep us off schedule,” Ralph said. “When they came out in a different defense, it’s not something we practiced for, but it’s something we can easily adjust to. We identified it, trimmed the game plan down for that series and then went to see what they did from there on out.”
The watchdogs for New Palestine run five deep.
With all five linemen returning from last year’s 4A state championship season, the front five, led by senior center Andrew Yazel drive the offense, Ralph said, and are the eyes and ears for New Palestine senior quarterback Alex Neligh.
“We walked up and (the offensive linemen) were the first ones to see it,” Neligh said. “They yelled it back to me to prepare us, and then me and (running back) Nick (Brickens) talked about it and figured out what we needed to do and how to change up our scheme.
“They come to me all the time and tell me what they see and the tendencies of the other team’s lineman. It was good the way we handled the adversity and how we performed. I was really happy how our offense came out and executed the game plan.”
Yazel, seniors Nick Derheimer, Michael Woodall and Matt Moeller along with junior David Judy establish the pace for Neligh, who racked up 125 yards passing, two touchdowns through the air and another three on the ground for 104 yards rushing last week.
“Fast pace plays into our hand. We’re physical, so we like to keep it rolling,” Yazel said. “After the first play (last week) we saw a 20-yard break against a defense that we practiced for the entire week, and it gave us that fuel to keep us going.”
Against Richmond, the defense are determined to keep the Red Devils off the board after surrendering six points to them last season.
Richmond has several playmakers such as Juwan Clairborne, who had a kickoff return for a touchdown last week. Quarterback Jordan Christian passed for 152 yards and running back Parker Holland broke 100 yards and finished with three touchdowns as they beat Connersville 49-20.
“We had a lot of guys that were all-state last year that are gone, so the returners want to set that tone again. I want to make sure we do it again,” senior linebacker Joe Izbicki said. “(Last week’s game) makes us want to put a zero on the board next game. It doesn’t matter who is on the field, varsity, JV or freshmen, you want to keep that zero up there. That’s something special.”
Being back home this week holds the same weight, especially with the team opening their doors to 8-year-old Clayton Trebley, the son of Jason Trebley, who works with New Palestine Youth Football.
Battling with cystic fibrosis, Clayton was approached by the Make-A-Wish Foundation after spending three days in the hospital recently due to his illness. His wish was to be a New Palestine Dragon.
“I told his dad, ‘don’t waste the wish on us. It’s our duty to do this. Use the wish on something else,’” Ralph remarked. “I owe it to this kid as part of our community.”
The team plans to involve Clayton in all pregame and postgame rituals and supply him with a memento to remember the experience – one the team wants to stamp with a victory.
“It puts it into perspective how little football is in the aspect of life where people aren’t fortunate enough to have the same opportunities that we do,” Neligh said. “It makes you happy to see that you’re making such a big impact on someone I’ve never met before, but knowing how much this sports, team and our season last year meant to him for him to use that on us, means a lot to the program.”
Richmond (1-0) at New Palestine (1-0)
GAME TIME: 7:30 p.m., Kelso Stadium.
COACHES: Matt Holeva, 21-11 in 4th year at Richmond, 82-34 in 12th year overall. Kyle Ralph, 29-1 in 3rd year at New Palestine.
SAGARIN RATINGS: New Palestine, 90.01, 5th overall, 1st in Class 5A. Richmond, 68.61, 77th overall, 20th in Class 4A.
SERIES LAST 30 YEARS: New Palestine, 4-0.
LAST MEETING: New Palestine, 42-6, Aug. 29, 2014.