Two of Indiana’s premier high school football programs will soon be on the same field at the same time.
Starting in 2018, Center Grove plays a home-and-home series against New Palestine, a Class 5A program that has won 50 of 53 games and played in two state championship games since Kyle Ralph took over as head coach in 2013.
The Dragons host the first matchup Aug. 24, 2018. The Trojans will host New Pal for an Aug. 30, 2019 game.
A Week 2 opponent was needed for Center Grove, which will end its series with Whiteland following this season’s game.
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The Trojans were contracted to continue its series with Whiteland through the 2019 season. However, the programs agreed to opt out if each could find new Week 2 foes beginning next season due to the uncompetitive nature of the series.
With Center Grove a Class 6A program and Whiteland in Class 5A, the Warriors sought to play more teams in their class.
Center Grove in January agreed to a two-year series with New Palestine. Meanwhile, Whiteland locked itself into playing a home-and-home Week 2 series against Greenfield-Central in 2018 and 2019.
While enrollment discrepancies have kept the Trojans and Dragons from meeting in football in the past – Center Grove’s 2,500 students is more than double New Palestine’s 1,119 – the latter’s recent success makes it a more intriguing matchup.
New Palestine football was a Class 3A program as recently as the 2006-07 school year.
The schools already compete against one another during the regular season in girls and boys basketball, softball and boys soccer.
“My athletic director (Al Cooper) called me in one day and said Center Grove called and would we want a two-year deal?” Ralph said. “As a small school you feel kind of honored, but at the same time you’re like, ‘This is Center Grove.’
“It speaks volumes to where our program has gone and shows the kids we’re willing to challenge ourselves,” Ralph said. “We’ve got a lot of games to play before that happens, but our players are excited.”
Since the 2013 campaign, Ralph’s first as the Dragons’ head coach, the Center Grove and New Palestine programs have combined for a record of 106-11 (.906) and four state championship appearances.
Center Grove won it all in 6A in 2015 and finished runner-up to Carmel last November. New Palestine won the 4A crown in 2014 and came up short in an epic 64-61 battle to Fort Wayne Snider the following season in the 5A title contest.
The upcoming series will feature contrasting offensive philosophies and playing surfaces.
New Palestine implements a power spread style and continues to play home games on a grass field. The Trojans play on field turf and are primarily a running team, utilizing the wing-T since Eric Moore took over as coach in 1999.
“New Pal has to be one of the top programs in the state right now. They play with a lot of heart, and Kyle does a great job. He’s one of the best young coaches in Indiana,” Moore said. “It will be a challenging series.”
Another schedule change for the Dragons is adding Kokomo to open the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The Wildkats are a respected Class 5A program, having posted an 81-26 record in coach Brett Colby’s 10 seasons.