WHITELAND — It wasn’t the most glamorous of performances, but it was more than enough to get the New Palestine football team started with a victory.
Quarterback Zach Neligh ran for nearly 200 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns, and the Dragons’ defense kept the host Warriors off the board in the second half to secure a 19-8 win Friday night.
“It was our front line really trying to wear the other team down,” Neligh said, “and we owe that to our conditioning, to our coaches. We knew that they were going to be one of the better lines we face this year, so we really came into the game understanding that we needed to keep the tempo up, make them tired, and take advantage of that.”
Luke Canfield got the Dragons on the board first when he found a sliver of daylight on a third-down run and took it 31 yards into the end zone at the 5:10 mark of the first quarter. The extra-point attempt failed.
Whiteland came right back, using a 44-yard screen pass from Iyan Pelfree to Ryan Hammond to set up first and goal. Two plays later, Pelfree dove in from a yard out with 2:44 on the clock, and Hammond’s 2-point run put the home team up 8-6.
That lead didn’t hold for long, as Neligh busted free for a 26-yard scoring run on the final play of the first period to give New Pal a four-point edge that stood up through the end of the half. Neligh ran for 97 yards on 11 first-half carries.
The Warriors appeared to reclaim the lead midway through the second quarter, but a 45-yard screen pass from Kevin Stucker to Hammond was called back because of a holding penalty.
“We made some Week 1 errors,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said, “and when you make those mistakes against a really good football team, they’re going to make you pay for them.”
Down 12-8 at the midway point, Whiteland put together a long opening drive to start the third quarter but stalled, coming away with a missed field goal on fourth and goal.
Following a tradeoff of interceptions, New Palestine’s ground attack ate up 66 yards in nine plays, and Neligh scored from 3 yards out with 0.4 seconds left in the third period to stretch the margin to 11.
The second interception of the night by the Dragons’ Ryker Large — New Pal’s third as a team — with 7:07 remaining in the fourth pushed Whiteland to the brink of defeat, and the visitors salted away the rest of the clock with a deliberate rushing attack.