NEW PALESTINE — The faces and names may change over the years, but the one constant for the New Palestine High School football team the past four years has been undefeated regular seasons and Hoosier Heritage Conference championships.
Friday night was no different for the 2016 squad, as New Palestine closed out the regular season a perfect 9-0 and as the top team in the HHC with a 56-15 win against visiting Delta.
“It’s tough as the clock ticks down and it becomes a win or go home situation. This group has playoff experience, and I cannot say enough about what these guys have done for our program. They’ve been a part of a lot of wins,” New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph said. “It is unbelievable we are here four years later, and these guys have so far exceeded expectations, and we are indebted to our seniors.”
In addition to the perfect regular season and conference title, the win also was the 50th for coach Kyle Ralph, who takes over second place in all-time wins with a 50-2 mark.
After forcing a three-and-out on Delta’s first offensive possession, the Dragons wasted little time imposing their will, finding pay dirt in 22 seconds thanks in part to the play of their senior quarterback Gunnar Large and senior running back DuRon Ford.
Following a 24-yard pass play from Large to Adam Kincaid, Ford took a handoff and went 50 yards virtually untouched for the first of his four first-half touchdowns.
Minutes later, New Palestine would crack the scoreboard again, as Kincaid reeled in a 38-yard pass from Large, putting the Dragons ahead 14-0 with just over six minutes left in the first quarter.
Ford’s second touchdown of the half would come with just over a minute left, as he took a handoff and scampered 10 yards out to put the Dragons ahead 21-0.
“I challenged DuRon to be a complete running back. Anyone can be a running back, those are a dime a dozen, but he has become a complete running back,” Ralph said.
Forcing a turnover on downs to open the second quarter, New Palestine’s offense continued to roll as Ford took a handoff and rushed 42 yards to set up a first-and-goal situation inside the Delta 3-yard line. Two plays later, Ford got his number called again and plowed ahead from a yard out to put the Dragons out in front 28-0.
On the ensuing possession, Delta put together its best drive of the half only to have it end with New Palestine’s Colby Jenkins intercepting a pass from quarterback Tanner Lambert.
Two minutes later, New Palestine and Ford would find the end zone, extending the lead to 35-0 before the half. Ford ended the first half with 133 yards and four trips to the end zone.
The Eagles would come out of the halftime break looking to crack the scoreboard, marching 45 yards to set up a second-and-goal situation from the New Palestine 5-yard line.
That would be as close as they would get, as running back Charlie Spegal fumbled going in. New Palestine’s Jordan Shanahan was there to scoop up the ball and return it 95 yards for a touchdown, stretching the advantage to 42-0 with just under three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Dragons would add another touchdown with 20 seconds remaining, as Large found the end zone from 26 yards out, pushing the lead to 49-0.
On its ensuing possession, Delta converted on a scoring drive, as Spegal found a seam on the right side and scampered 75 yards, cutting the deficit to 49-6.
New Palestine’s final touchdown of the night came 12 seconds into the final frame, as Luke Canfield would go in from 20 yards out.
Despite trailing 56-6, Delta would not go away quietly, recording a safety and using a 65-yard run from Matt Schwer to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Kalib White, cutting the lead to 56-15.