NEW PALESTINE — Coach Kyle Ralph coined Friday night’s matchup against New Castle as New Palestine’s final “guaranteed” home game. His top-ranked Class 5A Dragons got the message, especially the seniors.
Led by the upperclassmen, New Palestine built a 63-0 lead by halftime to all but assure victory as eight different players scored en route to a dominating 72-0 Senior Night performance at Kelso Stadium.
Their victory extended the team’s home winning streak to 16 — a run that began on Aug. 30, 2013 — and upped their state-best run to 23 straight games.
More impressively, though, the win kept the seniors’ home record flawless.
As a group, they have never lost in New Palestine from freshmen year on and are 36-1 overall as varsity players the past three seasons.
“Hopefully not, but this could possibly be the last time we come out and play here. To come out on top means a lot. To be atop the conference was a goal tonight and to leave as seniors the right way,” New Palestine senior quarterback Alex Neligh said. “We got the job done.”
The Dragons will conclude their regular-season schedule next week on the road at Delta (6-2, 5-1) where they will attempt to complete their seven-game sweep of the Hoosier Heritage Conference. Shelbyville (7-1, 5-1) remains tied with Delta for second in the HHC standings.
Regardless of next week’s outcome, however, New Palestine (8-0, 6-0) has clinched at least a share of the program’s third straight HHC title and seventh championship overall with their second shutout of the season.
Coach Ralph and his team still are focused on closing out the regular season unbeaten for a school-first third consecutive season while awaiting their playoff fate, which will be revealed Sunday night during the IHSAA state tournament pairing show.
“We really wanted to take care of business tonight, and our starters came out and did a phenomenal job in the first half before we turned the engines off,” Ralph said. “The focus is on Delta now. Whatever happens with the draw happens. We’ll focus on that when the playoffs start. … being a conference champion is really high on our priority list right now.”
With one more week until the second season, the Dragons appeared in top form, going a perfect 8 for 8 on offense with their varsity starters on the field.
Neligh had a hand in his team’s first three touchdowns and six total.
Already the all-time career passing leader, he added to his totals with four passing touchdowns, a pair of rushing scores for 278 yards in total offense. Neligh completed 14 of 16 passes for 250 yards.
His touchdown strikes measured 13, 25, 12 and 40 yards. Neligh’s longest completion went 44 yards to senior wide receiver Duke Blackwell, who grabbed three passes for 98 yards.
Neligh’s rushing touchdowns covered 18 and 2 yards. Senior running back Nick Brickens added a 13-yard touchdown and Luke Ely scored on a 41-yard rush.
Blackwell entered the night with 20 career touchdown receptions, trailing Tyler Walden (2011-13) by only two for the lead all time. He is now only one away from tying him.
The defense nearly matched their five-turnover output from last week’s 45-0 win against Shelbyville.
The Red Rage racked up a fumble recovery and three interceptions. Two picks went to senior Logan Greene. He returned the second for a pick-6, covering 47 yards.