SHELBYVILLE — In a matchup of two of the top offenses in Indiana, New Palestine football coach Kyle Ralph said forcing turnovers would be key.
They needed just one play to make that statement.
Brett Luker picked off a pass on the first play of the game, setting up a touchdown pass from Gunnar Large to Brady Walden. That put the Class 5A No. 2 Dragons on the way to a 70-20 victory against 4A No. 5 Shelbyville on Friday at McKeand Stadium.
The 21 quick points put New Palestine up 42-13, and set the Dragons well on their way to their 34th straight regular season victory. The victory put New Palestine a game ahead of the Hoosier Heritage Conference field. The Dragons can clinch a piece of their fourth straight conference title with a victory next week at New Castle.
The Dragons are now 7-0 overall and 5-0 in HHC play, while Shelbyville stands at 6-1 and 4-1 in the HHC.
“We just played a really good football team,” Ralph said. “You put yourselves in the driver’s seat in the conference, but if we let this be the pinnacle, you’re going to fall down. It’s been a big grind to be first place in the conference for now, but a slip-up puts you in a tie. Now is the time to finish and leave the legacy.”
While Luker’s pick set the Dragons on their way, two more interceptions helped the Dragons put the Bears away in the second quarter. Jordan Shanahan stepped in front of a swing pass and ran it back 20 yards for a touchdown to put New Palestine up 35-13, a score that came two snaps after DuRon Ford capped a long drive with a 2-yard run.
Moments later, Walden picked off a long pass and New Palestine answered again with a 65-yard drive, capped by Ford’s second touchdown of the night.
New Pal had four interceptions against Shelbyville’s John Lux — the state’s leading passer — and all four turned into scores.
“In one game, we doubled his (interception) total,” Ralph said. “He only had three coming into the game, and we didn’t turn the ball over ourselves. That was critical. We said before the game we had to be opportunistic tonight. Defensively, they made some plays early, but we made adjustments and they settled in and started playing outstanding football.”
Ford ran for 127 yards in the first half and 208 in the game. His four touchdowns gave him a state-leading 25. Large ran for 83 yards and two scores and completed 9 of 11 passes for 73 yards and two scores.
Large had touchdown runs of 25 and 40 yards on back-to-back possessions to put New Palestine up 21-7. Shelbyville answered with the second touchdown pass from Lux to Damon Lux to cut the lead to 21-13 after one, but the two interceptions in the second turned the tide.
In the second half, Ford capped two drives with touchdowns and broke the 200-yard mark for the fifth time this season — many of those yards coming after first contact.
“You look at him, he’s 5-8, 170, but what you don’t take into account is he has a low center of gravity, and he’s unbelievably powerful and explosive,” Ralph said of Ford. “His speed translates to tremendous power. He’s such a versatile back, he’s got speed, explosiveness, vision and power.”
New Palestine had 391 rushing yards, with Luke Canfield adding a fourth-quarter touchdown to cap things off. New Palestine outgained Shelbyville 470-274 for the game.