MUNCIE — The New Palestine Dragons entered the season with a number of new faces on the roster.
But the season produced the same results.
A week after clinching the Hoosier Heritage Conference title, the Dragons finished their fifth consecutive undefeated regular season Friday, beating host Delta 55-7.
Quarterback Zach Neligh had another career game, throwing for 322 yards and four touchdowns, while the Dragon defense bottled up one of the state’s top rushers in the victory. New Palestine held Delta’s Charlie Spegal – who came into the game averaging more than 250 yards per game – to 110 yards.
Story continues below gallery
“One of the running jokes with the alumni, these seniors can be part of that club now, is that nobody has had to sit through a losing film session with me,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said. “Each year, it becomes a running joke, when those guys come back to the weight room, they’re busting our guys’ chops in the summer. Nobody wants to be part of that film session.”
The Dragons’ regular-season streak of 45 games is the seventh-longest in state history, dating back to 2013.
“It really is something amazing, honestly,” Ralph said. “Over the years, we’ve had so many different kids, players, sizes, skill levels, strength, speed, the level of consistency is just a credit to our kids – the coaching staff, the continuity we’ve had there. You don’t win without great players, and you don’t get those guys to execute without a great coaching staff. We’ll forever be in debt to those guys.”
The Dragons imposed their will early, dialing up big plays in the passing game. Neligh hit Jaxon Manes for a 44-yard touchdown on the first possession, then dialed up a 61-yard pass to Colby Jenkins to set up a short touchdown run minutes later to put NP up 13-0. Neligh also threw first-half touchdown passes to Ryker Large from 17 yards out and to J.T. Hoffman from 49.
Neligh completed 14-of-22 passes in the contest, hooking up with six different receivers. Eight of his completions were for 15 yards or more. It marked his third straight 250-yard passing game and his second straight game with four passing touchdowns. Hoffman had a career day with 144 yards on seven catches, while Manes had 100 yards on three grabs. Each had two touchdowns. Jenkins added a 91-yard game.
Luke Canfield ran for 108 yards and a score, his seventh 100-yard game of the season. New Palestine amassed 600 yards of total offense for the second straight week. A big key was the balance in both the running and passing game.
“As people try to stay near Colby and protect him from beating you, the other phases and pieces of the machine on offense have got to function,” Ralph said. “To see J.T., Jaxon, all those guys step up and make their plays – including Ryker Large with the touchdown – all those little things that go on, a lot of people take for granted. It’s critical for us, because you can’t take away one receiver, one running back. You’ve got to cover all the athletes on the field. That’s what makes the offense better.”
But the standout was New Palestine’s Red Rage defense, which didn’t allow Spegal and Delta’s powerful rushing offense to get untracked. Spegal was held to 34 first-half yards, and was held to less than half his season average of 258 yards per contest. In total, Delta gained 197 yards – with the lone touchdown coming after a long kickoff return set the Eagles up at the New Palestine 32 in the third quarter. Spegal had three carries for more than five yards in the contest.
The Dragons now look forward to the Class 5A tournament, which they will begin Oct. 27 against Muncie Central at Kelso Stadium.