Dragons earn third straight conference title

MUNCIE — For the first time in school history, the New Palestine Dragons have completed three consecutive undefeated regular seasons.

With their 24th win in a row, a 66-29 victory against Delta on Friday, the Class 5A No. 1 Dragons claimed their third straight outright Hoosier Heritage Conference title. The win also gives second-year head coach Kyle Ralph a 37-1 record at New Palestine.

Senior quarterback Alex Neligh, who needed just nine completions to break the school record (career), finished 10 for 14 passing in the first half for 158 yards and three touchdowns.

Senior receiver Duke Blackwell also got in the record books with two touchdown receptions in the first half. His second, with 7:49 remaining in the second quarter, broke Tyler Walden’s school record for career receiving touchdowns (22).

Neligh, per usual, got New Palestine (9-0, 7-0 HHC) on the board on its first possession with a 5-yard scamper capping a four-play, 65-yard drive that took all of one minute. Senior running back Nick Brickens added a 42-yard touchdown score to end the first-quarter scoring for both teams.

Delta (6-3, 5-2 HHC) entered the game riding a five-game winning streak but struggled to get much traction in the first half. Eagles senior running back Zach Mills, who entered the game as the conference and state leader with 1,750 rushing yards, was held in check with 49 rushing yards in the first half.

Mills’ total was 13th in the nation entering Friday’s contest.

However, the Eagles did score twice in the second quarter, with a highlight catch from 6-foot-6 wide receiver Mitchell Hahn, who found the end zone on a 77-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Tanner Lambert.

Nonetheless, 35 second-quarter points from the Dragons gave New Palestine a 49-14 halftime lead.

Junior Adam Kincaid came up with a fumble recovery at the 3-yard line on the Eagles’ first possession of the second half that led to a Neligh 5-yard score with 7:31 remaining in the third quarter.

From there, Brickens added his second score to seal the win.

Senior kicker Spencer Corey booted a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter and is now a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals and has nailed all 78 of his extra-point attempts.

The win also breaks a record for consecutive HHC wins (20) set by the Dragons between 2009-11.

But now the fun begins.

New Palestine will take this week off after receiving a bye in the first round of the IHSAA State Tournament and will look to start defending its 2014 state title Oct. 30 against Martinsville at 7 p.m.

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.