NEWBURGH — One hundred and sixty-five total touchdowns, 5,219 combined passing yards and a collective 100 points per game — it’s safe to say Saturday’s semistate battle between Class 5A No. 1 New Palestine and Castle has all the makings of an offensive shootout.
And although the Knights do not torch opposing defenses at the same rate as the Dragons, Castle boasts one of the state’s top aerial attacks with junior quarterback Dayne Keller passing for 2,961 yards — fourth best in the state — and 42 touchdowns this season.
Riding a five-game win streak, the Knights enter Saturday’s contest playing their best football of the season, according to head coach Doug Hurt. In those five wins, Castle is averaging 46.8 points per game, including a 45-26 regional championship victory against No. 3 Bloomington South, which was allowing a mere 11.5 ppg (10th in state).
In the win, Keller threw for 319 yards and five scores, three of which went to junior wide receiver Noah McLean (6-foot-1). McLean finished with 179 yards receiving and currently has 1,412 on the season (16 touchdowns).
“Our kids played really fast and hungry,” Hurt said, who has been with the program for ten years. “We were able to mix it up, pass and run, and keep them off balance. I think that really was the key.”
The Knights jumped out to a 19-0 first-quarter lead, but Bloomington South answered with 19 points in the second quarter, as Castle was able to take a slight advantage, 21-19, into the half. After adjustments, Hurt’s offense came out firing, scoring 24 points in the third quarter en route to the upset.
But the coach knows the Dragons are a different machine. He said he hasn’t seen an offense as lethal “maybe ever.”
“New Palestine is kind of in a class of its own,” Hurt said. “They execute well and really have no weaknesses I can see.”
The Knights have weapons too. Aside from McLean, Castle boasts a pair of monsters at the tight end positions, where they line up two on almost every play. Seniors Alex Garren and Will Randle both stand approximately 6-foot-5 and have combined for 830 yards and 20 touchdowns (14 from Garren).
Sophomore running back Jadrien Higginson keeps defenses honest, however, rushing for 1,306 yards (7.3 per carry) and 12 scores.
“Those guys are good targets for us,” Hurt said. “We had a lot of guys in the mix the other night. But it’s all about if we have time against a stout New Palestine front seven.”
Six different receivers caught at least one pass in the win over the Panthers.
Defensively, the Knights run a 4-3 Tampa-2 defense with two high safeties, Hurt said and holding Bloomington South scoreless in the first and fourth quarters proved key last week.
Castle forced the Panther’s quarterback into three interceptions after only throwing five all season.
“Defensively, we really swarmed the ball,” Hurt said.
On special teams, senior kicker Alex Myers is 57 for 58 on extra-point attempts and has 44 touchbacks on kickoffs for Castle.
What it all comes down to
High-scoring games are fun to watch, but this semistate matchup could come to defense (turnovers and three-and-out’s) depending on the weater. The forecast especially favors New Palestine’s run game (352.7 yards per game), as cold and rainy conditions are possible.
The Dragons haven’t lost a game at Kelso Stadium since 2012, when the team finished 3-7… Hurt is 78-38 in his tenure at Castle after playing on the 1994 state championship team … He has won two sectional titles prior to the regional win but never a semistate game … According to the Sagarin Ratings, New Palestine is a 26-point favorite.