NEW PALESTINE — The top-ranked New Palestine Dragons weren’t told they were playing Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Pendleton Heights at Lucas Oil Stadium today. They were asked.
Invited to participate in the three-day showcase event in downtown Indianapolis during the offseason, coach Kyle Ralph didn’t give the immediate go-ahead.
Instead, he felt the decision had to be made by his seniors.
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“The game organizers asked us to come down and be the showcase game, and we can say yes or no because we had to give a home game up, so I brought in all the seniors and told them we were going to take a vote,” Ralph said.
The impromptu meeting led to an open floor discussion before the players cast secret ballots with varying opinions expressed. In the end, the group came to the same conclusion.
“Many of them felt Lucas Oil was a place you had to earn the right to play in. It should be a place reserved for playing in Week 15, and their ultimate goal was to go back and win because they earned the right to do it,” Ralph said. “I was proud of that because that’s the mentality here. You earn everything you get.”
Though it was a just regular-season game, the Dragons believed they had earned the invite because of what the returning players had helped accomplish last year in the Class 4A state title game and the expectations ahead.
Much like their No. 1 ranking in Class 5A, the vote to play was virtually unanimous. Now the goal is to make their dominance indisputable once the game kicks off at approximately 7:30 p.m.
“Outside of being 1-0 this week, the goal is to protect the (HHC) helmet and work towards being a conference champion,” Ralph said. “Our kids are taking this game incredibly serious. … I’m sure many of those memories and emotions from last year will rush back once we get down there, and hopefully, it will inspire us and lead us to a great performance.”
The Dragons need little motivation, winning 22 straight regular-season games to date and breaking a school record set from 1983-85. Overall, the team is riding a 19-game winning streak, including 15 consecutive HHC games.
New Palestine is a perfect 4-0 on the year and 2-0 in the HHC, tying them with Pendleton Heights (2-2, 2-0 HHC) and Shelbyville (4-0, 2-0 HHC) for first place.
In regards to scoring, however, they have no equal.
Ranked first in the state, New Palestine is averaging 62.5 points per game. The Dragons have scored 20 points or more in a single quarter seven times and are beating their opponents by an average margin of 53.8 points.
Last week in their 59-7 win against HHC rival Mt. Vernon, they scored on all nine offensive possessions, setting a school record for efficiency.
The team’s No. 1 offense, led by senior quarterback Alex Neligh has produced 28 touchdowns and two field goals in 32 possessions.
They can’t afford to slow down against the 4A Arabians tonight.
Coach John Broughton’s team has produced back-to-back 30-point games and after trailing 17-7 to Greenfield-Central last week, quarterback Jarrod Hubble and the offense rattled off 24 straight second half points to win 31-24.
“We need to get started early on offense like we did last week, go down on our first possession and execute,” Neligh said. “We definitely need to stay tuned in on offense and keep the momentum in our favor because they’re a very good team and well coached.”
In the teams’ past 28 meetings, the Dragons have won three straight and 13 of the last 15 since 2003. Last year, New Palestine posted a 56-7 victory to up their all-time series lead to 15-13.
This is the first neutral-site game between the two schools and New Palestine’s seventh appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium since 2008. They are 3-3 at the venue and 5-5 overall at the Indianapolis Colts’ home fields.
Their last visit netted a 77-42 win against New Prairie and the program’s first-ever state championship.
“Going down there means a lot, especially because a lot of teams don’t get to do that,” Neligh said. “Hopefully, if we do everything right we win (tonight) and we’ll get a second shot at it again later this year. It’s definitely an honor to be down there again, especially after what we did there last year.”
Pendleton Heights (2-2, 2-0 HHC) vs. New Palestine (4-0, 2-0 HHC)
GAME TIME: 7:30 pm ET, Lucas Oil Stadium.
COACHES: John Broughton, 223-181 in 40th year at Pendleton Heights. Kyle Ralph, 32-1 in 3rd year at New Palestine.
SAGARIN RATINGS: New Palestine, 95.17, 2nd overall, 1st in Class 5A. Pendleton Heights, 48.19, 180th overall, 43rd in Class 4A.
LAST OUTING: Pendleton Heights defeated Greenfield-Central, 31-24. New Palestine defeated Mount Vernon (Fortville), 59-7.
OPPONENTS’ RECORDS: Pendleton Heights 7-9, New Palestine 8-8.
SERIES LAST 30 YEARS: New Palestine, 14-10.
LAST MEETING: New Palestine, 56-7, Sep. 19, 2014.