NEW PALESTINE — New Palestine’s sectional-opening contest against visiting Martinsville was nearly over before it started.
In a battle of defeated versus undefeated, the Class 5A No. 1 Dragons proved too powerful, improving to 10-0 on Friday with their 25th straight win, a 70-6 rout of the Artesians, led by six total touchdowns by senior quarterback Alex Neligh.
New Palestine moves on to the Sectional 14 title game next week where it will play at No. 2 Columbus East. The Olympians (11-0) beat Whiteland 28-14 in their sectional semifinal on Friday.
Story continues below gallery
Martinsville ends its season winless (0-10) under second-year head coach Brad Rose. The Artesians struggled to get any offensive momentum rolling against the state’s top 5A team and fell behind from the start, trailing 21-0 after the first quarter.
Third-year head coach Kyle Ralph (38-1) said it was a great tuneup game for Columbus East after receiving a first-round bye.
“We like to start fast,” he said. “7-0 is a nice mental advantage. It was a good start to the football game. We kept a really simple game plan. We only ran two rushing plays.”
New Palestine scored first, per usual, after a four-play, 78-yard drive that ended with Neligh finding senior receiver Logan Greene in the end zone for his seventh score of the season just over a minute into the game.
Neligh used his legs on the ensuing drive and scored his 24th rushing touchdown of the season with 8:58 remaining in the first quarter to give the Dragons a 14-0 lead. Junior running back Adam Kincaid added a 3-yard run to close the first-quarter scoring.
Neligh opened the second quarter with a 39-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Joe Izbicki, who was wide open up the seam and entered the end zone untouched.
Neligh scored again on a 46-yard rush on New Palestine’s next drive and senior running back Nick Brickens added his 16th touchdown of the season to give the Dragons a 42-0 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the half.
Neligh finished with 10 rushes for 108 yards and two scores in the first half. He also added 120 passing yards. For the game, he finished with 317 total yards (157 passing, 160 rushing).
“He’s a great player,” Ralph said. “We tried to keep him healthy. I was most happy with our efficiency in the passing game.”
Just over three minutes into the second half, Neligh added his third rushing touchdown from 52 yards out giving the Dragons a 49-6 lead. Brickens followed with a 58-yard score, and freshman Colby Jenkins finished the third quarter scoring with a 20-yard catch from Neligh, giving New Palestine a 63-6 advantage.
Most of the Dragons starters sat the majority of the fourth quarter to rest up for a big game next week.
New Palestine did not play perfect, however. Its defense gave up a couple big gains and Neligh bobbled a snap that the Artesians recovered in the second quarter.
Nonetheless, the Red Rage did play well, minus the late score in the second quarter, with junior Brady Walden snagging an interception in the first half and Izbicki recording multiple sacks from his linebacker position.
Ralph knows those types of mistakes could be costly next week against the undefeated Olympians.
In 2014, the Dragons beat Columbus East 30-28 in semistate action before stomping New Prairie (77-42) at Lucas Oil Stadium to win the state title. The game was New Palestine’s closest in tournament play. The Olympians should present the same challenge this season.
“We really don’t have much (on them),” Ralph said of Columbus East. “We will get the film and get on it and get moving. Both teams are very physical.”