INDIANAPOLIS — Delta controlled the clock, played error-free football and left Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday evening as one of only three unbeatens remaining in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
In a conference showcase, the Eagles mastered defending HHC champ New Palestine during a 21-6 victory.
Delta’s game-opening, 15-play, eight minute, 35 second drive set the tone for the contest, one of four conference games on the Indianapolis Colts’ home field Saturday.
Sophomore running back Joe Spegal had 10 carries for 49 yards on the initial Delta (3-1, 2-0 HHC) drive, punctuated by a 6-yard touchdown run that would mark the only scoring by either team in the first half.
“On that first drive, they kept getting short-yardage first downs,” New Palestine coach Charlie Hill said. “We competed, we made them battle for first downs. It was a (15)-play drive, so we made them work for it. We just needed to get a stop, and we didn’t do it.”
The Dragons (1-3, 0-2 HHC) — off to their worst start since 2002 — drove inside the Eagles’ 36-yard line on each of their three drives, but failed to produce points.
Twice, New Palestine was stopped on fourth down — on 4th-and-9 at the Delta 22 and 4th-and-2 at the 36. The Dragons also fumbled on first down from the Eagles’ 26-yard line.
“We have more miscues inside that part of the field, instead of stoking the fire with a sense of urgency and making something happen,” Hill said. “We should get better there and we either get cautioned or concerned or mistake-prone.”
The Dragons’ third stall in Delta territory — at the 36-yard line — was on the opening drive of the second half. The Eagles responded by marching the ball down the field for another Spegal rushing score, this time on a 4-yard scamper.
The Eagles made it 21-0 on their next possession with a 28-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Cade Jones to junior wideout Jalen Robinson at the 1:23 mark of the third quarter.
Jones finished 7-of-12 for 123 yards, no interceptions and the touchdown, while Robinson had five receptions for 97 yards. Spegal gained 120 yards on 28 carries.
Overall, the Eagles averaged 17.7 yards per pass completion and 4.8 yards per rush; numbers that New Palestine (10.2 yards per pass; 3.7 yards per rush) couldn’t match.
The Dragons’ offense was decent, but not dynamic, according to Hill.
“We need some playmakers to show up,” the first-year interim coach said. “The chances that we have to make plays, we probably go down a little bit too easy. And we need to turn those into long plays or long scoring plays. We’re just too short on the yards per attempt to be able to have some kind of threat.
“We need to be able to break some things loose.”
Part of the Dragons’ inability to make quick, lengthy strikes, Hill believes, stems from the team’s turnovers issues.
New Palestine had 14 turnovers in its first three games. The red-and-white had only one miscue Saturday as the Dragons’ carriers didn’t take many chances trying to gain extra yards after initial contact.
“And I think part of that is we’re still freaking out a little bit about trying to take care of the football and hold on to the ball,” Hill noted. “I think there were times they were tackling the ball, not tackling us and we went down protecting the ball instead of breaking through a tackle and running. We might have had some 13 or 14-yard runs, but we didn’t have any 40 or 35-yard runs.
“So, if we’re taking care of the football better, maybe we can take the next step forward and break a tackle down the field and turn it into a big play.”
The Dragons will try to take that next step Friday at Rushville (1-3, 0-2 HHC). The Lions fell to Mt. Vernon 55-14 in the second game of the HHC showcase.
Mt. Vernon (3-1, 2-0), Delta and Shelbyville (2-2, 2-0) stand atop of the conference. The Golden Bears upset Pendleton Heights 17-14 in Saturday’s opener.
Rushville allowed 512 yards of total offense to Mt. Vernon Saturday, which would portend good things for the Dragons, who were held to 201 total yards by Delta.
Collin Hill led New Palestine with 82 yards on 13 carries, while quarterback Blake Luker completed 10-of-16 attempts for 102 yards, with Tyler Walden and Scott Lyons totaling eight receptions.
Lyons scored the Dragons’ only touchdown Saturday on an 8-yard pass from Luker with 6:20 left in the game. The extra point kick was no good.
Delta 21, New Palestine 6
NP (1-3, 0-2 HHC) 0 0 0 6 — 0
DE (3-1, 2-0 HHC) 7 0 14 0 — 21
DE — Spegal, 6-yard run (Kern kick), 3:25.
DE — Spegal, 4-yard run (Kern kick), 4:44.
DE — Robinson, 28-yard pass from Jones (Kern kick), 1:23.
NP — Lyons, 8-yard pass from Luker (kick failed), 6:20.
First downs 10 12
Rushes-yards 27-99 44-193
Passing yards 102 124
Comp-Att-Int 10-16-0 7-12-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-10 1-5
Rushing: Luker 11-12, Hill 13-82, Walden 1-0, Survant 2-5 (NP); Bickford 1-14, Jones 3-5, Spegal 28-120, Bechdolt 7-25, Dishman 4-17 (DE).
Passing: Luker 10-16-102 (NP); Jones 7-12-124 (DE).
Receiving: Lyons 3-34, Walden 5-37, Carothers 1-6, Wiggins 1-25 (NP); Spegal 1-9, Dishman 1-18, Robinson 5-97 (DE).