NEW PALESTINE — On paper, Class 4A No. 9 Shelbyville was supposed to present top-ranked New Palestine it’s greatest challenge this season.
Only one problem — the undefeated 5A Dragons don’t put much stock in rankings.
Going retro on homecoming night, New Palestine defended Kelso Stadium with Red Rage, posting its first shutout of the year to win the battle of unbeatens 45-0.
The Dragons’ defense forced five turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions — to put New Palestine ahead early 2-0 with a safety, and the team recorded the gridiron cycle with two special teams scores.
New Palestine quarterback Alex Neligh rushed for a career-high 239 yards on 29 carries for four touchdowns and passed for 72 as the Dragons (7-0, 5-0 HHC) overcame a sloppy, wet field to win.
“Hopefully, this proves we can win a game on the ground, if it means that,” New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph said. “The Red Rage did a fantastic job as well, shutting down what had been a pretty potent offense.”
The victory extended New Palestine’s winning streak to 22 consecutive.
Shelbyville (6-1, 4-1 HHC) entered the night on it’s first 6-0 start since 2009, but they had few answers for the Dragons — even when opportunity fell in their lap.
Turning over the ball for only the second time this season, Neligh fumbled the ball at the Shelbyville 4-yard line on their first drive, but the Golden Bears lost ground and surrendered a safety on the next play.
Once the Dragons firmed up their grip on the game, the offense went to work, scoring on a 10-play drive, capped by Neligh’s first touchdown. His scores measured 13, 15, 4 and 13 yards.
Nick Brickens, who rushed for a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give New Palestine a 37-0 lead, energized the Dragons on special teams, which accounted for nine points along with four extra points.
Snatching a punt return out of the rain-soaked air, Brickens weaved his way to an 88-yard touchdown, increased New Palestine’s lead to 15-0 in the first quarter.
A 32-yard field goal from placekicker Spencer Corey capped the contributions 39 seconds before halftime.
The Dragons carried a 68.5 points per game average and produced 394 yards in total offense — 322 rushing — but the defense played their part as the unit stalled four times. Two resulted in turnover on downs and the others ended in punts.
The Red Rage handed Neligh and the offense several short fields and limited Shelbyville to 114 yards. They hemmed up quarterback John Lux, who had thrown for 1,094 yards and 13 touchdowns prior to the game.
Senior running back DeShaun French had rushed for 946 yards and 13 scores but was halted for 38 yards on 13 carries.