Dragons take charge against Marauders

NEW PALESTINE — Throughout its 50 seasons of varsity football, the New Palestine Dragons have prided themselves on the “Red Rage” defense.

It set the tone again Friday night, as the Dragons forced four straight three-and-outs to start the game, held Mt. Vernon to 99 yards of total offense and had four sacks and two picks.

In turn, it kept delivering the ball back to the New Palestine offense en route to a 47-3 victory over county rival Mt. Vernon.

This was also the golden-anniversary meeting between the two schools. New Palestine held the Boundary Rail for the fifth consecutive year with the victory. New Palestine (4-0, 2-0 HHC) also maintained possession of the Hoosier Heritage Conference Helmet trophy with its 40th consecutive regular-season win and 29th straight HHC win.

“That’s a huge point of pride,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said of beating the Dragons’ arch-rivals. “That’s the first thing we talked about (after the game). Despite the improvement that needs to be made, the most important thing is we got the win. You protected your home field, you won the rivalry game, you brought the rail back here for another 364 days. We’ve got the Helmet in our possession for another week. That’s a big deal. 365 days from now, we’ll step on the field and try to defend it.”

New Palestine held Mt. Vernon (1-3, 0-2 HHC) to minus-47 yards on the ground – a number bolstered by four sacks of quarterback Tyson Harley. Sophomore Ryker Large had two interceptions – giving him five for the season.

“These guys play their absolute hearts out,” Ralph said. “That’s a kid doing his job play-in and play out as an undersized sophomore playing guys three, four, five inches taller than him. We’re four games in and he’s near the top of the state in interceptions. We’ve got guys like that all over the place who are doing a really good job. We’ve got to get all 22 of those guys out there every single play. I’m proud of kids like Ryker who are just stepping up. There’s tons of them.”

New Palestine got going quickly offensively with three long drives, with Josh Glover scoring on a 7-yard run in the opening quarter. After Landan Burton deflected a punt on Mt. Vernon’s first possession, the Dragons took advantage of the short field and went up 13-0 after Zach Neligh’s 1-yard TD run.

Both drives featured fourth-down conversions. New Palestine smelled out a fake punt, but an interception by the Marauders gave Mt. Vernon the ball back. The Dragons again forced a punt, and again drove downfield, chewing up 74 yards in 12 plays before Luke Canfield scored from a yard out.

New Palestine led 19-0 at the half, and added four TDs in the second half on their first five possessions – Neligh throwing TD passes to Colby Jenkins and Jaxon Manes, before he and Glover each had TD runs to expand the lead.

Mt. Vernon’s had some big plays in the passing game, throwing a 46-yard pass to Cole Van Slyke on the first play of the second half, and later setting up a 34-yard Trevor Bond field goal with a 56-yard strike to Adam Lackey. Harley threw for 146 yards.

New Palestine had 558 yards of total offense on 83 plays, with Neligh completing 17-of-26 for 198 yards. Jenkins had his second straight 100-yard receiving game with 102. Both Neligh (118) and Canfield (137) broke the 100-yard mark on the ground, as New Palestine ran for 360 yards.

While the Dragons rolled up another big offensive game – tallying 40-plus points and 500-plus yards for the third consecutive week – Ralph believes there is room for improvement.

“It took us a little bit of time to figure out what their gameplan was,” he said. “When you’re not executing well, it makes it more difficult to figure out. It really slows down our timetable on adjustments. We came through at halftime, came back with what we felt was a pretty good plan for the second half and had some explosive plays from there on out. In an even ballgame, you can’t wait until halftime to make adjustments. We have to get more efficient on that side of the ball so we can put our players in the best position to win.”

New Palestine returns home next week to face Pendleton Heights. Mt. Vernon also returns home after a three-game road swing to meet Delta.